April 6 (UPI) -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered a zero-tolerance policy for immigrants illegally crossing the southwest border, telling U.S. attorney's offices to prioritize prosecuting offenders.
The top Justice Department official sent a memo to federal prosecutors near the border in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, to work with the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on illegal immigration.
"The situation at our southwest border is unacceptable. Congress has failed to pass effective legislation that serves the national interest -- that closes dangerous loopholes and fully funds a wall along our southern border," Sessions said.
The loopholes Sessions referred to were addressed earlier in the week by senior administration officials in a background briefing call with reporters. They said they've asked Congress to fix the Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act and the Flores Settlement Agreement in order to speed the process of deporting some asylum seekers. The officials said that doing so would help alleviate a "huge backlog" of cases in immigration courts.
The Justice Department said there has been a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 and March 2018. They increased 37 percent from February 2018 to March 2018, the largest month-to-month increase since 2011.
"As a result, a crisis has erupted at our Southwest Border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border," Sessions said. "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.
"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."
Sessions' memo comes as President Donald Trump ordered his administration to send members of the National Guard to the border to assist Border Patrol with patrolling the area. He said Thursday he wants "anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000" troops to be deployed.
This week, the president lashed out against "large caravans" of people -- mostly from Honduras -- traveling north from Mexico's border. The caravan, which started off as about 700 people and grew to nearly 1,200 was in part organized by Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders. Organizers said they expect most of the migrants to attempt to settle in Mexico, with about 10 percent to 15 percent potentially seeking asylum in the United States.
The government of Mexico on Monday said officials returned about 400 of the migrants to their home countries.