Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday that federal prosecutors are being instructed to prosecute all illegal entry cases, amid the rise in illegal border crossings through the Southwest border.
The memo for Sessions’ office calls on U.S. attorneys on the Southwest Border to adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy to prosecute every alleged border jumpers sent to them by the Department of Homeland Security.
This policy ends the commonplace practice of simply returning border-crossers to Mexico or their own country, and it creates a huge economic risk for the poor young migrants seeking low-wage jobs in the United States. If caught, they will lose several months or even years of much-needed earnings while they sit in a U.S. jail, so creating more economic problems for their families and also angering the coyotes who expect the migrants to pay off their smuggling costs.
Pro-American immigration reformers welcomed the decision.
“The attorney general’s zero-tolerance approach is a welcome and needed change after too many years of catch-and-release policy,” said Dale Wilcox, director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute. “When the federal government’s voice on illegal immigration is firm and backed with consistent actions, the result will be less illegal border crossings and safer communities.”
The statute, 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a), specifies a misdemeanor sentence up to six months for a first-time illegal entry and a felony penalty of up to two years for subsequent offenses.
“This zero tolerance policy shall supersede any existing policies,” Session said in a Friday press release, referencing the GOP-controlled Congress which failed to pass reforms or provide funds for President Donald Trump’s signature border wall. He continued:
The situation at our Southwest Border is unacceptable. Congress has failed to pass effective legislation that serves the national interest—that closes dangerous loopholes and fully funds a wall along our southern border. As a result, a crisis has erupted at our Southwest Border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border.
Arrests on the border, after plummeting last year as President Trump took office, appear to have shot back up. Perhaps most illustrative of the challenges faced was the audacity of leftist non-profits sponsoring a “caravan” of more that 1,000 Central American migrants to walk through Mexico and take advantage of America’s asylum laws. Political pressure convinced Mexico to break the caravan up before it reached the American border.
The memo is the fulfillment of an effort that began last April when Sessions issued the first set of new prosecution guidelines to end what he called then “catch-and-release” policies. At the time, DoJ recommend prosecuting all repeat illegal entry offenders, but Friday’s memo goes further and returns to President George W. Bush’s limited policy of “Operation Streamline.”
Project Streamline was used in certain border districts until the Obama administration suspended the program under pressure from open-borders Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain (R-AZ) in 2015. Sessions specifically referenced the success of Operation Streamline in his new memo.
The Attorney General issued the following warning:
To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice. To the Department’s prosecutors, I urge you: promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens. You play a critical part in fulfilling these goals, and I thank you for your continued efforts in seeing to it that our laws—and as a result, our nation—are respected.
The new memo comes as a broad administration push on border security is underway. Somewhere between two and four thousand National Guardsmen are slated to be sent to the border to reinforce the U.S. Border Patrol in its mission.
Meanwhile, the immigration courts, under Attorney General Sessions authority as part of the Justice Departments Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), have increased their rate of deportation proceedings to the levels that prevailed before the Obama years.