New Mexico’s Republican gubernatorial candidate wants the U.S. Department of Justice to hold 2016 presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accountable for an email scandal that dates back to nearly a decade ago. Without offering many details, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who is giving up his congressional seat to run for New Mexico governor, said in a radio interview last week he does not think the DOJ—specifically U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions—is doing enough to take Clinton to task for the way she reportedly handled classified email messages while Secretary of State. The host of Mornings with Mike Winters in Roswell asked Pearce about “the status of ‘lock her up,’” which supporters of President Donald Trump chanted at rallies leading up to the 2016 election. The chant, which appeared at a Trump rally as recently as last week, refers to Clinton. “Yeah I don’t know exactly what happened to Jeff Sessions when he got appointed in as Attorney General but he has suddenly forgot the chorus there,” Pearce said.
The debate over enforcement of immigration law was front and center this week, with images of children separated from their parents and held in cages along the border in newspapers and TV news. The White House flip-flopped on its explanations and who was to blame, as shown by a damning video in the Washington Post. Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at stopping the same separations the White House said previously could only be ended by Congress. Even that didn’t stop the outcry, with critics pointing out that it would still allow family separations in some cases and that it would allow indefinite detention of families. While children would not be taken from their parents to be put in federal facilities, they would be held together with their respective families until immigration prosecution could take place.
Tornillo, Texas, is a desert town east of El Paso, just 89 miles from Las Cruces. Fewer than 2,000 residents were recorded living there in the 2010 Census. But it hosts a port of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border—one that exposes the increasingly urgent moral battle over migration and human rights. Last week, the Trump administration announced a new facility at the port of entry to temporarily hold immigrant children separated from their parents. According to a story in the Texas Tribune, HHS is erecting tents in Tornillo for the children and teens.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies and enforcement while speaking at the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition and the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition spring conference in Las Cruces
Sessions reiterated pledges to increase prosecutions of those who enter the country illegally in an attempt to deter others from even attempting to enter. “If you break into our country, we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. Sessions said that Trump “expects us to not just play around with this problem, but to fix it and that’s certainly my goal.”
One way he said Trump would help solve illegal immigration is by building a border wall. He said the lack of such a wall was “an open invitation to illegal crossings.”
He also praised the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Mexico, which he said “already demonstrated its effectiveness over the last two years.” He said the office’s prosecutions of illegal crossings increased seven-fold from two years ago. Sessions described several so-called “loopholes” in the immigration process, including what he called a “credible fear loophole.” He was referring to a longstanding U.S. policy that allows people who have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country to gain asylum admittance.
In November 2016, just after the election, President-elect Donald Trump announced Jeff Sessions as his pick for attorney general. His confirmation was still a couple of months away, but the Republican senator from Alabama went quickly to work helping to shape the Justice Department he would soon inherit. One task was to line up U.S. attorney nominees to potentially replace Obama administration holdovers leading offices across the country. It is a common bit of work for a new administration, and recommendations for posts as federal prosecutors typically come from senators of every state, as well as former Department of Justice officials. In at least one instance, however, Sessions wound up turning to a more unorthodox source for recommendations — Elliott Broidy.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors on the southwest border to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who enters or attempts to enter the country illegally, a mandate he said “supersedes” any prior directives. “To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said in a statement. “To the Department’s prosecutors, I urge you: promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.”
The directive instructs all federal prosecutors on the southwest border to prosecute all Department of Homeland Security referrals for alleged violations of federal immigration illegal-entry laws. In a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors on the southwest border, Sessions said the goal wasn’t merely developing more immigration cases, but instead an end to the “illegality in [the] immigration system.” He added that if the new policy requires more resources, the offices should identify and request those to the Department of Justice. The mandate comes the same week President Donald Trump has assailed Democrats for supporting what he said are “catch and release” policies where individuals apprehended by the Border Patrol are released while they await a court date.
The U.S. Department of Justice is again threatening to withhold some crimefighting funds from Bernalillo County over what the Trump administration has called “sanctuary” policies. The DOJ contacted Bernalillo County and 22 other jurisdictions, including New York City and the states of California, Illinois and Oregon, saying they violated the law that promotes sharing immigration enforcement information with the federal government. DOJ says the statute requires cooperation as a condition for receiving grants through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Wednesday, DOJ threatened to subpoena officials who do not comply with their documents request. The threat is the latest in the fight between the federal government and local jurisdictions they deem as “sanctuary.” There is no formal definition of a so-called “sanctuary” city or county, though the Trump administration generally uses it to refer to local jurisdictions that do not fully comply with federal requests to aid enforcement of immigration law.
The U.S. Department of Justice does not appear to be concerned with medical cannabis producers or patients, including those in New Mexico, despite a memo Thursday from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session that signaled a federal crackdown on legal marijuana. Sessions’ memo officially rescinded guidance from the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama regarding cannabis. Instead, Sessions wrote, each U.S. Attorney has the discretion to determine which types of cannabis-related cases should be federally prosecuted. Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico James Tierney did not respond to a request for comment. New Mexico law only allows for medical cannabis use, which was not specifically addressed in Session’s memo.
Anti-abortion activists praised the U.S. Department of Justice for sending several criminal referrals to the FBI with allegations that the University of New Mexico Hospital and Southwest Women’s Options conducted illegal activities related to fetal tissue donations. In a letter last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Stephen Boyd addressed concerns U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce raised in September. Pearce is New Mexico’s lone Republican member of the delegation. “This is a serious matter, and the Department takes these referrals seriously,” Boyd wrote to the congressman. “The Department has brought each of these referrals to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for review and any appropriate follow-up action.”
The issue goes back to a 2015 video that allegedly showed that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue.
Off to the side of Highway 10, somewhere in between Las Cruces and El Paso, Michel Nieves lives in a house with his parents and four siblings. Nieves, 20, and two older siblings have protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His 16-year-old sister is awaiting approval. His 5-year-old sister is the only U.S. citizen in the household. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.