In an unusual move for the head of the U.S. Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to speak with Department of Homeland Security personnel on Tuesday to make the case for increased prosecutions of migrants.
Sessions, a long-time proponent of tougher immigration enforcement during his time in the U.S. Senate, told U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Port of Nogales in Arizona that more illegal immigrants should be prosecuted as criminals.
"Why are we doing this?" he said. "Because it is what the duly enacted laws of the United States require."
To that end, Sessions announced that each U.S. attorney would be required to designate a point person on border security prosecutions by April 18. The person in that position, known as a border security coordinator, will be directed to coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security, according to Sessions' memo.
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.
Other immigrants apprehended for crossing the border illegally face civil procedures, with deportation the only penalty.
Sessions' directive did not go beyond existing laws, but he said his order "mandates the prioritizations of such enforcement" by U.S. attorneys.
(Writing by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Dan Grebler)