Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed federal prosecutors across the U.S. to make immigration cases a higher priority and look for opportunities to bring serious felony charges against those who cross the border illegally, reports the Washington Post. It is the latest in a string of controversial maneuvers to crack down on illegal entry into the U.S. and expand the Justice Department’s role in immigration enforcement. Sessions told each U.S. Attorney to appoint a border security coordinator to oversee immigration prosecutions. He told prosecutors to consider whether they could bring felony charges against those who had entered the U.S. illegally multiple times and to evaluate whether they could charge illegal immigrants with aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence. He said law enforcement would no longer catch and release undocumented immigrants taken into custody at the border.
The directive signals a more aggressive posture on immigration than the Obama administration took. Analysts said it raises troubling questions about the Justice Department’s use of resources. “Which prosecutors and agents does he want to divert from the growing threats like terrorism, cybercrime, the opioid and heroin trade, organized crime and cartel activity?” asked Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney in Seattle from 2009 to 2014. “The ‘surge’ philosophy always requires taking agents, money and prosecutors from other priorities. In fact, the cost of satisfying Washington will reduce the ability of every U.S. Attorney to address the greatest threats in their communities.” Sessions touted the changes in Arizona yesterday as he toured a U.S.-Mexico border crossing 70 miles south of Tucson. In a speech, he derided violent cartel and gang members and those smuggling people across the border. He said illegal border crossings have declined since President Trump took office, dropping 40 percent from January to February.