In a speech yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new policies designed to divert Federal criminal law enforcement resources towards trying undocumented immigrants for crimes related to entering the United States without authorization. Sessions told an audience in San Diego that the Department of Homeland Security “is now referring 100 percent of illegal Southwest Border crossings to the Department of Justice for prosecution. And the Department of Justice will take up those cases.” This across-the-board criminalization of immigration violations is unprecedented. In the past, while undocumented immigrants would be tried and ordered deported by immigration courts, or simply be deported administratively, criminal charges were reserved for repeat violators and those engaged in criminal enterprises.
The new policy could lead to several hundred thousand additional immigration prosecutions in Federal court. Immigration judges cannot conduct criminal trials, and therefore massive new prosecutoral and judicial resources will have to be deployed to the border. It is unclear where these resources will come from. Also unclear is where detainees awaiting trial will be housed. Since a Federal criminal trail will likely take months to complete, existing prison space will be overrun within weeks.
Sessions also broke new ground by describing families who cross the border together as alien smuggling operations. Sessions told reporters that; “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” Describing a parent travelling with a child as an “alien smuggler” is ludicrous and prosecuting the parent as some sort of coyote was unheard of under other presidents. Threatening to separate parents and children in the same week that a report found that the Department of Homeland Security had lost track of hundreds of kids it had arrested is abusive.
At a time when the Trump administration is repeatedly caught in its own lies, Trump’s Attorney General threatened felony prosecutions against immigrants who make misstatements. Too bad none of the president’s men face similar penalties for lying.