The Trump administration is laying down new mandates that’d see more immigrants prosecuted for illegal entry to the United States – a move advocates fear will lead to the separation of families.
Under the new policy, the Department of Homeland Security will refer ‘100 percent of illegal southwest border crossings’ to the Justice Department. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said immigrants could be tried using a federal statute.
“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” said Sessions on Monday, speaking at a press conference held along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. “It’s that simple.”
The New York Times speculates that an uptick in prosecution could flood immigration courts, which already suffer severe backlogs and case congestion, and crowd out detention facilities for undocumented aliens.
To combat judicial fatigue, Sessions said he’s already dispatched 35 prosecutors and an additional 18 immigration judges to the Southwest.
The decision follows months of harsh immigration edict and strong rhetoric.
“Today we’re here to send a message to the world that we are not going to let the country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border,” said Sessions in another round of conferences held between Arizona and New Mexico.
Immigration ‘caravans,’ referenced by Sessions, were a hot topic at the White House through April. Reports of a massive stream of Central American migrants – possibly numbering in the thousands – alarmed and angered President Trump, who took to Twitter with demands that Mexico deploy police and its judiciary.
And the new policy, reports the Times and POLITICO, seems to take aim at parents who may be traversing the border with young children.
“If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” said Sessions. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over the border.”
The new initiative and drive against illegal immigration strives to see prosecutors file as many cases as possible, up “until we got to 100 percent.” While POLITICO says it’s unlikely that prosecutors will ever manage to achieve such a high benchmark, the Department of Homeland Security has indicated that it wants to see more unauthorized border-crossers facing criminal charges.
“What is notable about this is that they are taking into criminal proceedings first-time crossers, which has generally not been the case in the past,” said Doris Meissner, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.
Zero-tolerance policies toward illegal immigrants were enacted under the George W. Bush administration. They were subsequently scaled back by former President Barack Obama.
Sessions says the Justice Department doesn’t intend to separate families, but that unauthorized aliens should prepare to face the consequences if they try taking children across the border illegally.
“We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally,” said Sessions. “This is just the way the world works.”