U.S. to Crack Down on Immigrant Smugglers, Repeated Entry

  • U.S. attorney gerneral cites decline in crossings from Mexico
  • Prosecutors ordered to consider gang affiliations in cases

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised Tuesday to "take our stand" against cross-border criminal cartels and people smuggling unlawful immigrants from Mexico as part of a plan to get tougher on illegal immigration in what he called "the Trump era."

"Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings," Sessions told border agents in Nogales, Arizona, according to prepared remarks. "It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth."

President Donald Trump said on Twitter later Tuesday, "Gangs & cartels that flood our country will no longer be able to profit from their lawlessness, turn cities into warzones & harm our people!"

Sessions directed federal prosecutors in a memo to give priority to prosecuting those who smuggle more than three people into the country and those who’ve made repeated border crossings. He proposed felony prosecution for people with two or more prior misdemeanor convictions for improperly entering the U.S., 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.

The Justice Department plans to hire 125 more immigration judges over the next two years, the attorney general said.

"For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era," Sessions said, according to the text. "The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over."

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a Senate committee last week that border apprehensions of undocumented immigrants were down 71 percent in March from December 2016, the last full month before Trump took office. Trump said during the campaign that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists into the U.S., and called for building a wall along the border, which he said Mexico would pay for. Mexico says it has no intention of doing so.

“While dramatic progress has been made at the border in recent months, much remains to be done,” Sessions told prosecutors in the memo. “It is critical that our work focus on criminal cases that will further reduce illegality. Consistent and vigorous enforcement of key laws will disrupt organizations and deter unlawful conduct.”

More than 300 companies have expressed interest in building the wall Trump made a central theme of his campaign. Trump’s administration is seeking a $1 billion down payment on the structure. An AP-NORC poll conducted March 23-27 found that Americans oppose new spending for the wall by 58 percent to 28 percent.

Read how some companies are holding back from bidding on the wall

Sessions’ memo also called for giving top priority to undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, pose a danger to public safety or have prior administrative or criminal violations. He asked prosecutors to consider gang affiliations and "other aggravating circumstances" when moving ahead with cases.

He also asked each district to designate a border-security coordinator by next week to work with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to develop programs and training and to share information.

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