In a speech to law enforcement officers in Scottsdale, Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally enters the United States along the nation’s southwest border. Sessions said that the Department of Homeland Security will begin referring cases to the Justice Department for prosecution. Sessions said that federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent.”
“If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Referring illegal immigrants for criminal charges means that if an adult crosses the border with children, the parents and children will be separated while waiting for criminal proceedings.
“Eleven million people are already here illegally,” Sessions said in his speech. “That’s more than the population of the state of Georgia. ... We’re not going to stand for this. We are not going to let this country be invaded. We will not be stampeded. We will not capitulate to lawlessness.”
Recently, immigration and border officials had urged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to prosecute all parents caught crossing illegally from Mexico with their children. Incarceration could split up thousands of families. Until now, parents caught crossing the border illegally with their children are released to await civil deportation hearings.
Sessions said that he will send 35 prosecutors to the Southwest border region in addition to 18 immigration judges. “We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said last week. “People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border. We need legality and integrity in the system. People should wait their turn, ask to apply lawfully before they enter our country.”
Over the last year, DHS officials say they have seen a significant increase in illegal border crossings. Also, there has been an uptick in the number of families and unaccompanied minors crossing. In April, the Border Patrol encountered more than 50,000 migrants illegally crossing into the U.S. In the April 2017-April 2018 period, the number of “inadmissible” border crossings and apprehensions has tripled, according to DHS.
The zero-tolerance policy will not apply, however, to persons seeking asylum in the U.S. at an official port of entry -- they will be placed into immigration proceedings.