DOJ Issues New Memorandum on the Enforcement of Immigration Law

On April 11, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors entitled “Renewed Commitment to Immigration Enforcement.”  This memorandum called for increasing efforts to make certain categories of immigration offenses higher priorities for deportation.  Such offenses include alien smuggling, particularly cases that involve smuggling of three or more individuals.  The memorandum also called for felony prosecution in cases where a defendant knowingly enters into a marriage for purposes of evading immigration law, and also where a defendant has two more misdemeanor improper entry cases, or one misdemeanor improper entry case with aggravating circumstances (e.g. felony criminal history, gang membership, prior removal or exclusion order, etc.).

With respect to improper entry cases, the DOJ is directing each U.S. Attorney’s office on the Southwest Border – Arizona, New Mexico, the Southern Districts of California, Texas and Western District of Texas – to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) in establishing guidelines for prosecuting such violations. Each district was to have submitted their guidelines to the Deputy Attorney General by April 24, 2017.  The Memorandum specifically directs these districts to consider prosecution of individuals who illegally reenter, and with priority given to prosecuting those who have been convicted of an aggravated felony, have prior criminal history indicating that the defendant poses a danger to public safety, have one or more administrative or criminal immigration violations, gang membership or affiliation or other “aggravating circumstances.”  The DOJ also calls for prosecution, to the extent practicable, of individuals for aggravated identity theft and document fraud, as well as assault, resisting or impeding immigration officers, in connection to cases involving illegal reentry.

To implement these new enforcement guidelines, the DOJ also directed every district to designate a “Border Security Coordinator” by April 18, 2017. The Border Security Coordinator (“BSC”) will oversee the investigation and prosecution of the offenses referenced in the memorandum, provide legal training and advice to assistant U.S. attorneys regarding these offenses, and maintain statistics on the prosecution of these offenses. The BSC will also coordinate meetings with DHS representatives from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and USCIS.  The goals for these meetings are to coordinate immigration enforcement initiatives, highlight their importance on public safety, and facilitate information sharing.

Finally, the DOJ stated that further guidance on the execution of this new policy, including an updated memorandum on charging for all criminal cases, would be forthcoming.

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