US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has renewed calls to criminally charge people who illegally enter the United States amid efforts by President Donald Trump to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Sessions said Friday that he was ordering US Attorneys offices near the Southwest border to prioritize bringing cases against first-time border crossers.
The offenders are first charged with illegal entry and then deported, but if they are caught crossing illegally again, they can be charged with a felony carrying significant jail time.
Sessions ordered the US Attorney’s Offices in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to prosecute all the cases referred under the criminal entry statute, known as 1325, “to the extent practicable.”
This comes after a memo he issued in April 2017, directing prosecutors to more frequently arrest and criminally charge first-time offenders as well as people with multiple entries.
Some federal prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges have warned against the measure, describing it as a drain on court resources.
“This will be assembly-line justice, where large numbers of defendants are forced through the system without adequate time to consult counsel,” Cecillia Wang from the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
Supporters of Session’s approach, however, have said that penalties for crossers would discourage them from attempting to enter the US again.
Meanwhile, Trump signed a memorandum on Friday, ending a policy, known as "catch and release." Based on this policy, illegal immigrants are released from detention and wait until a court hearing on their status starts.
The president had vowed to clamp down on immigration, in part by building a wall on the Mexican order, but has failed to get his complete agenda through so far.
In September 2017, he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program - an executive action taken by former President Barack Obama that allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the US under the age of 16 to apply for protection from deportation.
Since it went into effect in 2012, roughly 800,000 people were protected by the program, and roughly 700,000 had active DACA protections before it was annulled by the president.