Attorney General Jeff Sessions adjusts his hat as he tours the U.S.-Mexico border with border officials, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Nogales, Ariz. (Ross D. Franklin / AP)
has directed federal prosecutors in the states bordering Mexico to crack down harder on migrants who repeatedly enter the country illegally.
A memorandum made public Tuesday morning orders each federal border district to appoint a “border security coordinator” to oversee “the investigation and prosecution" of migrants under the new policy.
"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," Sessions said Tuesday in a speech at the Nogales Point of Entry in Arizona.
The border districts are Arizona, New Mexico, southern California, southern Texas and western Texas.
Currently, the crime of improper entry by a migrant is a misdemeanor. Under the new policy, it will be prosecuted as a felony for migrants who already have two such misdemeanor convictions or for those with just one conviction if there are aggravating circumstances, such as gang affiliation.
Greg Chen, Director of Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, criticized the new policy for what he said amounted to targeting migrants who pose no threat to U.S. citizens.
"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," Chen said. "He and President Trump are wasting more federal taxpayer dollars going after illegal border crossers instead of protecting the American public."
Sessions had called for immigration courts to speed up prosecutions and for the Justice Department to hire 75 more immigration judges, along with 60 more border enforcement prosecutors.
When Sessions was a U.S. senator, he frequently charged that the federal government was not doing enough to address illegal immigration. In his confirmation hearings to become attorney general, he faced harsh opposition from Democrats who questioned his record on civil rights.
Sessions will continue his Arizona tour on Tuesday in Litchfield Park, Ariz., at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Division Midyear Conference, followed by a tour of Luke Air Force Base.