NOGALES, Ariz. — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the arrival of the “Trump era” to the border during a visit here on Tuesday.
That era brings with it new guidelines for federal prosecutors that include harsher punishments for human smugglers and people who repeatedly cross the border illegally, Sessions said at the Mariposa Port of Entry, where billions of dollars in produce and industrial items cross the border every year and authorities sometimes find semi-tractor trailers hauling thousands of pounds of marijuana.
Sessions said drug cartels and gangs “turn cities and suburbs into war zones” while profiting from smuggling “poison” and people across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand,” said Sessions, who varied from his prepared statement distributed to reporters that had this remark ending with “against this filth.”
Sessions said he heard the concerns of Customs and Border Protection officers and agents. The Trump administration will “bring the full weight of both the immigration courts and federal criminal enforcement to combat this attack on our national security and sovereignty.”
Sessions will require federal prosecutors to consider charging illegal border crossers with document fraud and identity theft, where possible. Federal authorities also will detain all adults apprehended at the border, rather then release them while their cases are adjudicated.
Sessions pointed to recent declines in apprehensions at the border since President Trump took office in January as signs of successful border enforcement.
“That’s no accident. This is what happens when you have a president who understands the threat,” and makes clear to law enforcement officials that he “has their back,” Sessions said.
To implement the new guidelines, every U.S. Attorney’s Office across the country will designate an assistant U.S. attorney as the “border security coordinator” for their district, he said.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, said in a written statement that Sessions’ announcement “continues the intentional and systematic effort by this administration to criminalize immigrants, painting entire communities as guilty until proven innocent for actions that aren’t even crimes. Sessions isn’t just asking federal prosecutors to enforce the law — he’s asking them to actively seek opportunities to throw the book at immigrants, simply for being immigrants.”
He called Sessions’ actions “appalling, but they are also predictable for a man who has seethed intolerance for his entire public career.”
To address the backlog of cases in immigration courts, the Trump administration plans to streamline the hiring process for immigration judges. The administration already added 25 new judges to detention centers along the border and plans to add 50 more this year and 75 next year, Sessions said.
Sessions took the oath of office Feb. 9. Prior to becoming attorney general, Sessions was a senator from Alabama from 1997 to 2017 and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981 to 1993.
As a senator, Sessions pushed for hard-line immigration policies and opposed efforts for comprehensive immigration reform unless the U.S.-Mexico border was secured. He has long been a proponent of building a physical barrier along the border.
He also opposed free-trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, that he said hurt the U.S. working class by closing factories.
As attorney general, Sessions is pushing to deny federal funding to local jurisdictions that do not honor requests from federal authorities to hold inmates at jails until they can be picked up and processed for deportation.
The Pima County jail alerts federal authorities when an inmate who is in the country illegally is being released, but does not give them 48 hours’ notice or hold them for an additional 48 hours, as requested by federal authorities.
After touring the border, Sessions was the keynote speaker at an international conference of police chiefs in Litchfield Park, and spoke to personnel at Luke Air Force Base.