Under U.S. law, anyone who harbors or transports an undocumented immigrant, has crossed the border illegally two or more times, resists an immigration officer's arrest or commits travel document fraud is subject to criminal prosecution. The attorney general outlined his new directives for federal prosecutors to prioritize litigation against undocumented immigrants who enter and live in the USA and those who aid them.
Sessions also announced that the department would add 50 immigration judges to the bench this year, and an additional 75 judges in 2018.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, said in a written statement that Sessions' announcement "continues the intentional and systematic effort by this administration to criminalize immigrants, painting entire communities as guilty until proven innocent for actions that aren't even crimes".
Undocumented immigrants who illegally re-enter the country after prior removal will be referred for felony prosecution.
Illegal entry into the United States can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. "The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws, and the catch and release practices of old are over", Mr. Sessions said in prepared remarks.
Schumer, a senator from NY, announced that he's backing a bill to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) more hi-tech tools to detect and seize the risky opioid fentanyl, specifically at the Mexican border. They said they live on the border and do not want to see it militarized.
Sessions credited President Trump for a steep drop-off of border apprehensions this year, but said there is still a need for a border wall to be built and expanded. "This is the Trump era", Sessions said in remarks to immigration officials in Arizona Tuesday.
In addition to the new guidelines for federal prosecutors, Sessions also reiterated his intention to have "all adults who are apprehended at the border" detained, and to place immigration judges in detention centers.
Sessions met with law enforcement, members of the military and border agents in Nogales, Ariz., urging their confidence in the administration as they push to implement policies boosting agents working to secure the southern border.
Later that evening, Sessions emphasized during an interview that undocumented immigrants who are caught at the border will face unprecedented legal penalties.
Those detained at the border trying to cross into the US will face civil action, and deportation is set to be the only punishment.
His directives already exist under US law, the order only "mandates" USA attorneys to make such enforcement a priority.
Reaction to Sessions' reforms was swift from immigrant rights advocacy groups. "It is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration".
The Trump administration has threatened to cut off U.S. Justice Department grants to so-called sanctuary cities that fail to assist federal immigration authorities.
Sessions also failed to use the word "filth" while actually delivering the speech, instead saying: "It is here, on this sliver of land, on this border, where we first take our stand".