Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a new emphasis on immigration crackdown during his visit as the nation’s top law enforcement official to the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday, pledging to fight the gangs and cartels tormenting the region and declaring: “This is a new era, the Trump era.”
Sessions met with police officers, members of the military, and border patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona, promoting their confidence in the administration as they start to implement policies boosting agents working to strengthen border security.
The tone of his comments reiterated the discourse that President Trump himself used when addressing illegal immigration and cartels during his presidential campaign.
“When we talk about MS-13 and cartels, what do we mean? We mean criminal organizations that turn cities into warzones, that rape and kill innocent civilians, and who profit by smuggling poison and other humans across our borders,” Sessions stated.
“… It is here on this sliver of land—on this border—that we take a stand. It is a direct threat to our legal system, peace, and prosperity,” he continued.
Coinciding with his visit, Sessions published a memo to all U.S. attorneys asking prosecutors to restore focus on immigration enforcement. He asked them to concentrate on specific offenses that can help prevent and deter illegal immigration – and to each, designate a border coordinator to manage such efforts.
Sessions’ visit comes in the midst of new questions over the future of Trump’s border wall. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has revealed that the wall is not a “priority,” and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told policymakers that the administration would not construct a wall from “sea to shining sea.”
However, Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized enforcement as he met border agents and explored the Tuscon Sector.
The Tuscon Sector, which spans the majority of Arizona, was once considered one of the most widespread areas in illegal border crossings and drug smuggling. However, in recent years, that reputation has transferred to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
In 2016, Arizona saw approximately 65,000 arrests—which is roughly half the number of apprehensions agents carried out in 2012, Border Patrol data revealed. Marijuana arrests also have decreased in the area by around 28%, from 1 million pounds in 2012 to 728,000 in 2016.
“We hear you, and we have your back,” Sessions declared on Tuesday. “We will secure the border and bring the weight of the immigration courts and federal criminal enforcement to combat this attack on national security and sovereignty.”
Sessions referred to an “unprecedented” 40% decrease in illegal crossings in January and February of 2017 – noting that March had the lowest monthly number in “at least 17 years.”
In his statement, Jeff Sessions also noted that U.S. attorneys should make the prosecution of assault on a law enforcement officer a “top priority.”
“If someone dares to assault our folks in the line of duty, they will do federal time,” Sessions continued.
He also revealed that the department plans to add 50 immigration judges to the bench this year, and another 75 judges next year.