Jeff Sessions has a message for people seeking to cross the southern border into the U.S.: "This is the Trump era."
During a trip to Nogales, Arizona, on Tuesday for a tour of the border and a meeting of of Customs and Border Protection personnel, the Attorney General warned people considering crossing illegally into the U.S.
" For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era," he said. " The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch and release practices of old are over."
Sessoins' tough talk coincided with the release of a memo directing federal prosecutors to prioritize certain immigration-related offenses including the "bringing in and harboring" of undocumented people, identity theft and resisting arrest.
The memo also calls for felony charges to be brought against re-entering undocumented immigrants who already have two or more misdemeanor charges under certain circumstances. Those "aggravating circumstances" include a felony criminal history, gang affiliations, prior removal and deportation.
Sessions told Customs and Border agents in Arizona the changes were a part of the Trump Administration's commitment to curbing illegal immigration. In his remarks, the Attorney General called the southwestern border "ground zero" in the "fight" to tighten the border.
" Here, under the Arizona sun, ranchers work the land to make an honest living, and law-abiding citizens seek to provide for their families," Sessions said. " But it is also here, along this border, that transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake."
Sessions singled out gangs and cartels as "criminal organizations" that turn "cities and suburbs into war-zones," that "rape and kill innocent" people and profit from "smuggling poison and other human beings across the border."
The Attorney General said the Trump Administration's focus on stemming the flow of immigrants across the border is an effort to protect communities from the violence he argues that immigrants bring. Immigration experts note that the surge in border crossings the U.S. experienced in recent years came as a result of people, including hordes of unaccompanied minors, fleeing violence in their home countries.
Sessions also touted recent figures that show border crossings have fallen significantly under the Trump Administration, which he said is what happens "when you have a President who understands the threat, who is not afraid to publicly identify the threat and stand up to it, and who makes clear to law enforcement that the leadership of their country finally has their back."
Immigration has been the focus of the Trump Administration since the President was inaugurated. In late January, Trump issued a series of executive orders aimed at addressing all forms of immigration. Under two orders, he called for the construction of a border wall and expanded the types of actions that could spark deportation. The president also instructed federal officials to highlight immigrant crime, (though studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens) and ramped up pressure on local officials to engage in immigration enforcement.
On Tuesday, Sessions also announced they are hiring more immigration judges to help reduce the backlogs in immigration courts. He said 25 judges have already been placed at detention centers along the border and they plan to place 50 more by the end of this year and 75 the year following.
Sessions said he has also put in place a new hiring program so judges will get placed faster than the 18 to 24 months it typically takes.