AUSTIN (KXAN) — United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions paid a visit to the Lone Star State to talk with local and state officials about immigration enforcement.
Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcer, highlighted President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities, which include tightened border security, and supporting Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities.
“Border Patrol’s tactics and their technology have been refined and are only getting better,” Sessions said. “The Department of Homeland Security believes that they are catching a greater share of illegal aliens than ever – more than four out of five.”
While immigration and disability rights advocates demonstrated outside, Sessions told a group of law enforcement officials that America was “finally getting serious about illegal immigration.”
He said the president wants to boost staffing numbers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to streamline deportation for illegal immigrants.
Sessions said Trump has proposed to hire more than 10,000 new ICE officers, 1,000 new ICE attorneys, 300 new prosecutors and nearly 400 new immigration judges.
“The principles [Trump] laid out deal with every aspect of our immigration problems are dealt with – everything from border security to interior enforcement to closing loopholes in our asylum program,” Sessions said.
Vincent Nunez came to the United States from Mexico with his mother when he was three years old.
“I didn’t actually realize that I was illegal until I was in middle school,” he said. His mother passed away while he was a child, and he became the primary caregiver for his three American-born siblings.
“I worked 60 hours a week just to get by,” he said. Then the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was implemented. He said if the program ends, and his visa expires, he would have to leave the country, which puts his future, and his American wife’s future, in limbo.
His wife, Emily, said she is “hoping and praying for the best but we do have to plan for the worst so it is in the back of our minds.”
“Can’t get a house when you don’t know where you’re going to be in the next year. And you can’t get a new car because you don’t know where you’re going to be. So it has definitely made us rethink a lot of things,” she explained.
Nunez said he is exploring legal paths to permanent residency and citizenship.
“I would hate for all of the DACA recipients to lose everything they built,” he said.
Sessions explained Friday that “DACA encouraged potentially tens of thousands of vulnerable children to make a trip to the north.”
The Trump administration has said local police who refuse to turn over suspects held for other crimes to ICE for deportation would not receive federal funding.
Portions of Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities, SB 4, went into effect on Sept. 1, while other portions were blocked in court.
Sessions said Texas has taken a “leadership role,” on the sanctuary city conversation.
“I want to commend the state legislature for passing Senate Bill 4 with strong majorities in both chambers, and thank Gov. Abbott for signing it into law,” he added. “I am well aware that this law has its critics. And I am more than familiar with their line of criticism. But the facts of the case are clearly on Texas’ side.”
State Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, responded to Sessions’ comments on DACA in a statement:
“From the very beginning, banning sanctuary cities has been about upholding the rule of law and ensuring that criminal aliens are not released back into our communities. I am pleased that we have a U.S. attorney general that shares this same vision so we can live in safe communities,” Perry said through a spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who has been outspoken against the sanctuary cities ban, said Sessions “doesn’t know our community.”
“Our community is not safer [by implementing SB 4]. We’ve been going out to town hall meetings and meeting with our community – it’s clear that the direction we’re going right at the moment is not the best for our community,” Hernandez said Friday after joining other law enforcement officials in a meeting with Sessions.
She said this was the first invitation to discuss immigration issues she has had in nine months.
“Anytime there’s dialogue, it helps a relationship get better or it helps the conversation to go forward,” Hernandez stated. “When you’re not invited period, there’s no conversation at all.”
Upon leaving Texas, Sessions was scheduled to head to Philadelphia, Pa., to attend the Project Safe Neighborhoods conference.