On April 11, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors titled “Renewed Commitment to Criminal Immigration Enforcement,” in which he directs federal prosecutors to enforce the criminal laws against unlawful entry into the United States. In the past, offenses such as unlawful entry, unlawful re-entry, document fraud or identity theft had noncriminal resolutions such as deportation or voluntary departure. The policies recently outlined by Sessions now encourage criminal prosecution of non-violent immigration violations as follows:
- Offenses related to unlawful transportation of harboring of undocumented aliens, with priority on those smuggling three or more individuals.
- Any case where the defendant has two or more prior misdemeanor improper entry convictions, or one or more improper entry convictions with aggravating circumstances, such as criminal history, gang membership or affiliation or multiple prior voluntary returns, prior removal or deportation orders, will be referred for criminal prosecution.
- Federal Prosecutors shall also consider for felony prosecution any case there is a finding of fraudulent marriage, made for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit.
Session’s enforcement policies put non-violent crimes such as document fraud and unauthorized entry into the same category for criminal prosecution as gang affiliation and violent felonies. The “catch and release” program is over, and every adult apprehended at the border is to be detained in ICE custody. These policies of criminalizing immigration law violations are unprecedented and Session’s vision is further reaching than just the federal prosecutors. Immigration Judges report directly to the Justice Department, not the independent federal court system. Sessions can dictate his priorities to Immigration Judges, thereby controlling the outcomes of removal hearings.
It is clear that all unauthorized immigrants are potential targets for arrest and deportation. Make sure you see an experienced immigration attorney if you are undocumented and come into contact with ICE or any agents or officers of the Department of Homeland Security.