In “the Trump era,” as Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it last Tuesday, immigration officials will undertake a harsh crackdown on undocumented migrants—a campaign one veteran federal prosecutor described as “fucking horrifying.”
In his speech at a border port of entry in Nogales, Arizona, “[t]he nation’s top law enforcement official outlined a series of changes that he said mark the start of a new push to rid American cities and the border of what he described as ‘filth’ brought on by drug cartels and criminal organizations,” the Associated Press reported.
“This is a new era,” the immigration hardliner told Customs and Border Protection personnel. “This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over.”
Mother Jones reported:
In his remarks, Sessions said nonviolent immigrants who enter the country illegally for a second time will no longer be charged with a misdemeanor—they’ll be charged with a felony. He also recommended that prosecutors charge “criminal aliens” with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which carries a two-year minimum sentence. In January, President Donald Trump expanded the definition of which immigrants can be considered “criminal” to include anyone who has committed “a chargeable criminal offense,” which could include sneaking across the border.
As he proposed stiffer penalties for nonviolent immigrants, Sessions also targeted gangs and cartels “that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders.” Invoking unusually severe language in the written version of his announcement, Sessions proclaimed, “It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.”
(Politico notes that the term “filth,” which appeared in prepared remarks, was omitted from Sessions’ speech when he gave it.)
One anonymous federal prosecutor told Daily Beast reporter Betsy Woodruff the directives were generating widespread negative response: “It’s fucking horrifying. It’s totally horrifying and we’re all terrified about it, and we don’t know what to do.”
“The things they want us to do are so horrifying—they want to do harboring cases of three or more people,” the prosecutor continued. “So if you’re illegal and you bring your family over, then you’re harboring your kid and your wife, and you can go to jail.”
Others blasted Sessions’ inflammatory rhetoric.
“Attorney General Sessions is grandstanding at the border in an attempt to look tough and scare immigrants,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice Education Fund. “It’s yet another example of the Trump administration treating all immigrants as threats and as criminals. This is the smokescreen they use to justify their efforts to deport millions, to keep people out of the country, and, ultimately, to try and remake the racial and ethnic composition of America.”
Gregory Z. Chen, director of government relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, added to the AP: “Once again, Attorney General Sessions is scaring the public by linking immigrants to criminals despite studies showing that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than the native born.”
Meanwhile, CNN reports Wednesday that the Trump administration’s latest immigration appointees are affiliated with far-right, anti-immigration organizations.
According to CNN:
Jon Feere, a former legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, or CIS, has been hired as an adviser to Thomas D. Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan.
At Customs and Border Protection, Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, has been hired as an adviser to Customs and Border Protection acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, said Lapan.
National Immigration Law Center executive director Marielena Hincapié said the hirings “are more evidence that white supremacists are now running our country’s immigration agenda.”
“These groups have spent 20 years looking for ways that they could hurt immigrants,” Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of pro-immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, told CNN, “and now they’ve been given the keys to the kingdom.”
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Deirdre Fulton is a Common Dreams staff writer.