WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors this week to seek the maximum punishment for drug offenses, in one of the clearest breaks yet from the policies of the Justice Department under the Obama administration.
The move is an abrupt departure from policy made by President Barack Obama's attorney general, to reduce the number of people convicted of certain lower-level drug crimes being given long jail terms.
The White House spent an entire day last week telling reporters that the president is “keeping his promises,” and indeed the president is cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Arrests of undocumented immigrants are up, and border crossings are down — a phenomenon his administration credits to the “uncertainty” about how immigration will be handled under the new president.
The president has championed this crackdown as key to making America safer, something that would surely be part of making the country “great again.” He’s launched an office to support victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, met with victims of such crimes at the White House last week, and celebrated the passage of two House bills that boost his efforts.
He championed two House bills which passed last week that would crack down on undocumented immigrants who commit crime , as well. There’s just one hitch: there’s no evidence undocumented immigrants are a public safety risk. On the contrary, there’s evidence that immigrants — both legal and undocumented — commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.
Status: No action
There are few indicators that crime has moved one way or another in just a few months, and Trump declined to send federal agents to Chicago to combat crime as he suggested he might in January.
What's more, law enforcement experts believe that the president’s efforts on immigration could actually drive crime up, as communities close themselves off to police — refusing to report, testify, or even acknowledge witnessing a crime or being a victim — for fear of immigration enforcement.
Trump took one direct action aimed at highlighting crimes, rather than preventing them. The Department of Homeland Security and ICE launched an office to support victims of crime perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. Critics, citing statistics that show American citizens are more likely to commit crimes than immigrants, say it's an effort to further demonize immigrants.
“By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will … make our communities safer for everyone,” President Trump said.
The Facts: Trump, who has often talked about violence committed by undocumented immigrants, has said he'll enforce immigration laws by deputizing local police, but law enforcement experts tell NBC News that this is likely to drive crime up — not bring it down — as communities stop reporting crime and cooperating with the police for fear of deportation.
Police rely on family and friends outing criminals, experts stressed in interviews.
"It's hard enough to get someone to tell on their friends and family" without threatening them with deportation, one expert said.
Throughout his White House bid, Donald Trump painted America as dark, dangerous, and riddled with crime. He railed against "terrorism and lawlessness" and "violence in our streets" in his acceptance speech, while addressing a nation that's at near historic low levels of a crime.
"This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," he said in his inaugural address.
Trump hasn't offered a large-scale plan for combating the crime he warns of, but his Attorney General pick of prosecutor turned Senator, Jeff Sessions, signals a tough-on-crime approach will be central to it. He also championed the idea of a nationwide version of the New York Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy despite, evidence that it was ineffective and a judicial ruling that in practice it profiled minorities. Other potential policies have emerged in the way of threats: He tweeted that he might send in federal authorities to combat crime in Chicago in the first few days of his term.
We'll watch for how Trump's policing rhetoric jives with nationwide efforts to increase community policing and minority outreach efforts, as well as how it will affect the bipartisan effort to reform minimum sentencing.