The days of abdicating our duty to enforce immigration laws are over

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On May 11, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an appearance before Customs and Border Protection officers at the U.S.-Mexico border to announce the issuance of new guidance to federal prosecutors on criminal immigration enforcement.

It is here, along this border, he said, that transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs. They leave death and violence in their wake. “And it is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration.”

“I am here to tell you, the brave men and women of Customs and Border Protection: we hear you and we have your back.”


The president has made enforcement of our immigration laws a priority, and we are seeing the results already. Illegal crossings dropped by 40 percent from January to February of this year, and last month, we saw a 72 percent drop compared to the month before the president was inaugurated. This is the lowest monthly figure in the last 17 years.


It is “the Trump era.” The days of abdicating our duty to enforce the immigration laws are over.

But what are his real intentions?

According to Frank Sharry, one of the nation’s leading liberal spokespersons for immigration reform:

“Attorney General Sessions is grandstanding at the border in an attempt to look tough and scare immigrants. It’s yet another example of the Trump administration treating all immigrants as threats and as criminals. This is the smokescreen they use to justify their efforts to deport millions, to keep people out of the country, and, ultimately, to try and remake the racial and ethnic composition of America.”

Sharry’s accusations seem to be based on what he thinks of Sessions, not on what Sessions is doing, which in this case is just prioritizing the prosecution of criminal immigration violations.

When Sessions was nominated, Sharry said, “Another day, another example of how President-elect Trump is filling the most powerful cabinet positions and senior White House posts in his administration with white nationalists and anti-immigrant zealots.”

The same thing is happening to President Trump. In the Hawaiian district court’s decision on the president’s travel ban, the court acknowledges that it cannot base a finding of religious persecution on the language of the travel ban, “It is undisputed that the Executive Order does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus nonreligion.”

In other words, the Executive Order would have been fine if it had been written by someone else.

Will everything the Trump administration does to enforce our immigration laws be attributed to anti-immigrant sentiment or Muslim prejudice?  

The Attorney General’s Memorandum to All Federal Prosecutors.

The memorandum orders federal prosecutors to make higher priorities of the following criminal offenses. The comments were taken from Session’s speech.

The Obama administration prioritized criminal immigration prosecutions too.

According to TRAC Reports, prosecutions for illegal entry, illegal re-entry, and similar immigration violations made up 52 percent of all federal criminal prosecutions in FY 2016.

Sanctuary cities ‘harboring‘ aliens: Trump’s next immigration target?

The harboring provision provides criminal penalties for concealing, harboring, or shielding aliens from detection knowing that they are in the United States illegally.

Harboring that results in the death of any person, may “be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

The harboring provision does not specify what actions constitute “harboring,” and the courts have not settled on one uniform definition.  

According to the Second Circuit, it encompasses “conduct tending substantially to facilitate an alien’s ‘remaining in the United States illegally,’ provided that the person charged has knowledge of the immigrant’s unlawful status.”

Isn’t that what officials in sanctuary cities are doing when they take affirmative steps to help undocumented aliens to remain in the United States unlawfully?   

Will they be prosecuted? Maybe, as Sessions has said, it is the Trump era.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an Executive Branch Immigration Law Expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing and Collaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has been in private practice as an immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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