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With new policy, Trump administration puts undocumented immigrants on notice

April 11, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
During a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined an aggressive, new approach on immigration. His message? “This is the Trump era.” Judy Woodruff speaks with Nancy Montoya of Arizona Public Media about Sessions’ comments and the new policy.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Attorney General Jeff Sessions today outlined the Trump administration’s tough approach on immigration during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.

He credited President Trump with the decline in border apprehensions and he urged federal prosecutors to focus on smugglers and immigrants who reenter the U.S. after deportation.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. Attorney General: For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned. This is a new era. This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our laws and the catch-and-release policies of the past are over.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on all of this, we are joined from Tucson by Nancy Montoya. She’s senior reporter on immigration and border issues for Arizona Public Media.

Nancy Montoya, welcome back to the program.

You have been covering border issues for many years. What struck you the most about what the attorney general had to say today?

NANCY MONTOYA, Arizona Public Media: I think it was more what he didn’t say, Judy.

One of the things that has been happening on a regular basis with the Trump administration is, officials come into the border, they spend a couple of hours, they talk to CBP, which is Customs and Border Protection, they talk to Border Patrol, they talk to officials, but they never talk to community members, to some of the civil rights groups, to some of the human rights groups who have really been protesting a lot of the strategies and policies of the Trump administration.

So, that was one of the things that really caught me off-guard, is that there was no conversation with those on the other side of the controversy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you hearing from this administration that differs from Obama administration policy?

NANCY MONTOYA: I think it is the types of people who they are targeting for deportation.

Under the Obama administration, yes, it was true he was dubbed the deporter in chief for deporting more people than the past three administrations put together, but there was also a targeted group they were deporting, Obama administration was deporting. And those were people with felonies. Those were people who were involved in drug trafficking, dangerous people, people who had committed murder or assault.

Those were the people who were being targeted. What’s different here is that you are now considered illegal if you cross the border once, and you’re considered to have broken the law. So, one time will get you a possible prosecution. Two times where you’re caught crossing the border illegally will get you a felony. And that’s one of the biggest differences.

Also, anybody who is caught up in a net in any kind of a raid are eligible for deportation immediately.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there was also — we noticed the march today seemed to be addressed to parents of children, parents who had come across the border, had children born in the U.S., but the vulnerability that those parents still find themselves in.

NANCY MONTOYA: Yes, that was also one of the things that struck me as difficult to hear, as someone who has lived and worked along the border for 30 years, is that, in many cases, you have people have crossed the border 20, 30 years ago. They had their children here. They have grandchildren.

And now they, too, if they are not citizens and didn’t cross into this country legally, they are subject to deportation. And that has already happened, where U.S.-born children are being separated from their parents. Parents are being deported.

There is no safety net anymore. And you are — if you are here and you cross the border illegally, the Trump administration is putting you on warning that you could be next.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the things the attorney general, Nancy Montoya, referred to was the administration’s plan to hire, I think he said 50 more immigration judges this year, 75 more next year.

How much of a difference could that make in the processing of immigration cases?

NANCY MONTOYA: That’s very unclear.

And there’s actually two things to consider here. First of all, the backlog with immigration court cases is about 500,000 people, half-a-million people backlogged in the immigration system.

It’s unclear whether these 25 to 50 to 75 new judges will be handling only the new cases coming in, or will they be spread out throughout the entire system? That’s still unclear.

There is also a lot of worry that you won’t get these judges up to speed. I know that Attorney General Sessions said we’re going to streamline the process, we’re going to push people through, but it still takes up to a year to get a new judge in place. And we still have no evidence that streamlining is going to mean faster.

So, in the meantime, you will be arresting more people and putting more people into the system, more people into private prisons and some of the public prisons, and further overloading an already overwhelmed immigration court system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just in a couple seconds, the status of the border wall that we have heard so much about?

NANCY MONTOYA: Border wall, no go. Mexico will not pay for it. And Congress needs to appropriate the money. So far, they don’t appear to be willing to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will certainly see about it.

Nancy Montoya with Arizona Public Media, thank you.

NANCY MONTOYA: Thank you, Judy.

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