U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions described the U.S. -Mexico border as "ground zero", pitting ranchers and other U.S. citizens against cartels and violent gangs and said immigration enforcement policies of past administrations have come to an end. "The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over".
"I took an oath to protect this country from all enemies", he explained.
The new directives could result in a surge in undocumented immigrants detained in USA prisons.
Praising President Donald Trump's efforts to make immigration enforcement a priority, Sessions cited that in March of this year "we saw a 72 percent drop [in illegal crossings] compared to the month before the president was inaugurated".
"As the Attorney General said in his statement, we must take a stand against filth like MS-13 and the cartels that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent people, and that profit by trafficking in drugs and people". He proposed felony prosecution for people with two or more prior misdemeanor convictions for improperly entering the USA, and he ordered prosecutors to get tougher on those who re-enter the country after being deported or who are found guilty of identity theft. But the DOJ's new guidelines indicate that prosecutors will seek felony charges in cases in which a person has a documented history of illegal entry into the U.S.
In addition, Sessions directed that undocumented immigrants be charged with committing document fraud and aggravated identity theft, "the latter carrying a two-year minimum mandatory sentence", he said.
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Sessions urged federal prosecutors to intensify their focus on immigration crimes such as illegal crossings or smuggling others into the U.S. Such prosecutions are already happening, however.
Sessions' memo to federal prosecutors (PDF) said each U.S. Attorney's office should designate a "border security coordinator" to oversee the prosecutions.
Currently, the crime of improper entry by a migrant is a misdemeanor. Trump said during the campaign that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the USA, and called for building a wall along the border, which he said Mexico would pay for.
Sessions outlined plans to bring federal charges against those who break immigration laws, as well as to stamp out the "filth" of criminal organizations both along the border and in the interior United States.
"This is the Trump era", Sessions said.
On Tuesday, Sessions also announced they are hiring more immigration judges to help reduce the backlogs in immigration courts. "It doesn't have to be every foot of the entire 1,700 [-mile] border, we know that".