US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the US has a “crisis” on the border with Mexico as Texas and Arizona have committed to sending National Guard troops there stem illegal immigration.
He was speaking in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at a meeting of local border town sheriffs as construction on part of the roughly 2,000 mile border wall is underway nearby. The city lies about 20 miles north of the border and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials say the heightened steel barrier will be harder to get over, under, and through than the old post and rail barriers that line the stretch of sprawling desert.
A 37 per cent increase in illegal border crossings in March brought more than 50,000 immigrants into the US, which was triple the number of reported illegal border crossings in the same period last year. As a result, President Donald Trump has authorised having up to 4,000 National Guard troops to man the border.
However, that number is still far lower than the surges of border crossings during the last years of the Obama administration and prior decades. At least 150 soldiers will deploy from the Arizona National Guard as early as next week, according to Governor Doug Ducey. The Texas National Guard said it will send 250 troops to the border.
Mr Sessions also said the Department of Justice recognised that the sheriffs are “the thin blue line that stands between law-abiding people and criminals – between a family’s security and lawlessness. You protect us and our communities, and you secure our country from drugs and violence”. It parrots Mr Trump’s rhetoric tying illegal immigration with violent criminals.
Last week Mr Trump, ditching his official comments on tax reform for a speech in West Virginia, said women in a caravan of migrants travelling through Central America to the US, fleeing gang violence and drug cartels, “are [being] raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before”, despite there being almost no evidence on which to base the claim.
Mr Sessions’ comments also came on the heels of his directive to US Attorneys in the southwest region regarding a “zero tolerance” policy on individuals caught while crossing the border illegally. He advised that first time offenders be prosecuted with a felony charge, a break from the past the first time when such offences were treated as misdemeanours.
He also set quotas for immigration judges to reduce enormous court backlogs, saying they must complete 700 cases a year to earn a satisfactory grade. The quotas take effect 1 October 2018.
Mr Trump also just ended the “catch and release” policy, which allowed immigrants who entered the US illegally are released from detention while awaiting a court hearing on their status. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the catch and release practice is “dangerous” because undocumented immigrants should not be allowed on parole.
“The safety and security of the American people is the president’s highest priority, and he will keep his promise to protect our country and to ensure that our laws are respected. At the same time, the President continues to call on congressional Democrats to cease their staunch opposition to border security and to stop blocking measures that are vital to the safety and security of the US,” the White House said in a statement.
Agencies contributed to this report