President Trump has placed immigrant communities at ground zero in his effort to blast our nation toward a nightmare future of racism and nativism. He is building upon groundwork for a massive federal crackdown laid during the George W. Bush Administration and expanded during the Obama Administration.
When the Department of Homeland Security was established, the new managers of the nation’s immigration enforcement machinery set about to enlist, entangle and commandeer state and local criminal justice agencies in a massive campaign to criminalize, capture, detain, deport – and in many cases, prosecute and imprison – the most vulnerable members of immigrant communities across the nation.
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice shifted its priorities and resources to sharply ramp up federal criminal prosecution of migrants for unauthorized entry to the US, resulting in a virtual explosion of contracting for private prison beds.
Prosecuting migrants is not a substitute for civil removal, but instead postpones that process and adds additional human and financial costs associated with their criminalization. Because these prosecutions have primarily been concentrated in five federal court jurisdictions located along the U.S. border with Mexico, they have remained the least publicized element of the immigration enforcement machinery. At the same time, they represent the most severe exercise of federal power in furtherance of immigration enforcement.
During 2017, almost 55,000 migrants—including some who may have valid asylum claims—were criminally prosecuted for improper entry or re-entry, accounting for 45 percent of all federal prosecutions. About half of these migrants were charged with 8 USC 1325, unauthorized entry (a misdemeanor that carries a jail sentence of up to 180 days). The other half were charged with 8 USC 1326, unauthorized re-entry after removal (a felony carrying up to two years in prison, or more if the migrant has a prior criminal record).
In April 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the U.S. Attorneys in the border districts to impose a “zero tolerance” policy for prosecution of migrants entering the U.S. without authorization, warning that, “...illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
Our panelists will present a brief overview of the implementation of the DOJ’s migrant prosecution campaign; a personal recounting of its devastating impact on immigrant families; and a description of the strategies and tactics being used by organizers and activists to build community power for resistance to this onslaught.