Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday announced further actions to keep the pressure on illegal immigration at the southwestern border, including more resources to prosecute cases.
Sessions said a total of 35 assistant US attorneys would be added in the five districts along the southern border to allow for more cases to be brought against illegal crossings and human smuggling, and 18 immigration judges would be tapped to hear cases in person and through video conferencing at border state immigration courts.
The moves follow a continued pledge by Sessions to take a hard line on illegal immigration and to try to move cases through the immigration courts more quickly, with the lengthy backlog in those courts blamed for allowing a number of undocumented immigrants to live for years in the US as they await final decisions on their fates.
The announcement also came as dozens of migrants looking to call attention to their plight in Central America have reached the US border, where they are slowly being allowed across to be processed for their asylum claims. The so-called caravan, a yearly event, has become a flashpoint in the immigration debate, especially since it caught the attention of President Donald Trump. Supporters say it exposes the need for asylum laws that offer protections to people fleeing dangerous and deadly persecution in their home countries, but the administration has used the situation to call for tougher laws, claiming migrants coming north are exploiting the US system.
While some of the deployed judges and attorneys could eventually be involved in cases related to the caravan, the deployment was a broader push in line with Sessions’ long-stated goal of boosting border security and the administration’s claims of a crisis at the border. Illegal border crossings are still near the bottom of a historic decline, though they have jumped substantially from a particularly low level last spring.
“We are sending a message worldwide, don’t come illegally,” Sessions said Wednesday. “We are not going to let this country be overwhelmed – people are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border. … People should wait their turn, ask to apply lawfully before they enter our country.”
The Justice Department has charged 11 people related to crossing the border illegally that it says are suspected members of the caravan, but the vast majority of the migrants are waiting at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California to make a legal claim of the fear of persecution once they reach the checkpoint. So far, roughly half of the more than 100 members have been allowed in to make their case, which could take months to years to finally be adjudicated if they meet the initial screening for credible fear.
The US attorneys are being deployed to the Southern and Western districts of Texas, Southern District of California, and the districts of Arizona and New Mexico.
The immigration judges are also being deployed to Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas immigration courts.
The move comes after the Justice Department redistributed more than 100 immigration judges to hear cases including at the border last year. The Justice Department has said its statistical analysis showed those judges were able to hear thousands more cases than they would have otherwise.
CNN’s Laura Jarrett, and Tammy Kupperman in Washington and Khushbu Shah in Tijuana, Mexico, contributed to this report.