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Jeff Sessions Ups the Ante Against Immigration, Vows Stricter Penalties for Violators

During a visit to the U.S.-Mexico Border on Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ushered in what he called the “Trump Era,” vowing that immigrants deported from the United States who re-enter the country without proper documentation will face felony charges amid an intensified immigration enforcement initiative.

“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. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch-and-release practices of old are over,” Sessions said in a speech addressed to immigration and border agents in Arizona.

According to a memo circulated within the Department of Justice, government attorneys should now “consider” raising felony charges against individuals caught crossing the border after being previously being deported. In addition, federal attorneys must aggressively pursue felony convictions against individuals found to have helped migrants enter the United States illegally, as well as those harboring undocumented immigrants. Compared to misdemeanor violations, felony convictions come with stiffer penalties.

The memo also said that immigration agents would vigorously pursue cases involving trafficking, assault, gangs, as well as identity and document fraud.

“Under the president’s leadership and through his executive orders, we will secure this border and bring the full weight of both the immigration courts and federal criminal enforcement to combat this attack on our national security and sovereignty,” Sessions said.

However, the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—the supervising agency of Immigration and Customs Enforcement—have yet to explain how an increase in felony convictions will impact the movement to ramp up deportations.

In his controversial executive orders on immigration, President Donald Trump did not make the distinction between misdemeanor and felony violations, simply stating that anyone convicted or charged with “criminal offenses” would be flagged for removal.

But a memo from DHS Security Secretary John Kelly concerning the president’s immigration orders suggests that immigrants with felony records may face an expedited removal process.

According to the memo, immigration authorities, “may, as they determine appropriate, issue further guidance to allocate appropriate resources to prioritize enforcement activities … for example, by prioritizing enforcement activities against removable aliens who are convicted felons or who are involved in gang activity or drug trafficking.”

Further adding to the confusion is how Sessions’ directive fails to mention whether deportation efforts will apply to individuals already in the U.S. or will target migrants arrested at the border.

This much, however, is clear: the attorneys general’s orders are primarily about deterrence. Sessions’ remarks are perhaps the administration’s strongest message on immigration since the president took office, calling for a “stand against this filth” of gangs and referring to the border as “ground zero.”

If you, or a loved one, need a clear explanation of what this latest development means for U.S. immigration policy, don’t hesitate to talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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