"This is a new era. This is the Trump era," Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared from the U.S.-Mexico border last week.
Since he became the nation's top law enforcement officer, the former Alabama senator has been carrying out many of President Trump's campaign promises — and he has done so perhaps the most smoothly of any administration official.
Sessions may have had a rocky confirmation, but he has been "moving very quickly to do the things he said he would," John Malcolm at the conservative Heritage Foundation told the Washington Examiner. And he's carrying out his mission without a team in place.
Trump has yet to nominate hundreds of lower-level officials throughout the Justice Department, all of whom must be confirmed by the Senate. And yet, he is carrying out his agenda.
Here are some of the ways Sessions has done just that:
Sessions has directed all U.S. attorneys to step up prosecutions of illegal immigrants, especially those who have crossed the border more than once.
He also has ended the Obama-era policy of "catch and release," which sends back illegal immigrants at the border instead of holding them for breaking federal law.
"Pursuant to the president's executive order, we will now be detaining all adults who are apprehended at the border. They will not be released," Sessions said.
Though the nation's backlog of immigration cases will undoubtedly grow with the new policies, Sessions announced a new hiring bump to help speed up the process. And for immigrants who need to be sent to jail, Sessions has rescinded guidance from former President Barack Obama's administration that directed the Bureau of Prisons to phase out private prison contracts.
Sessions also has threatened to crack down on jurisdictions that don't comply with federal immigration detention requests. Cities that continue to adhere to "sanctuary" policies could lose billions in federal grant funding, Sessions has said.
For groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, simply having the administration say it will take up immigration enforcement has made a big difference.
Ira Mehlman, FAIR's media director, said the biggest results — fewer illegal border crossings and arrests at the border — have come by "projecting the idea that we are serious about immigration enforcement."
"People are responding rationally to the signals that we send," Mehlman said, adding that ending catch and release was one of the best concrete moves Sessions has done.
Next up, he said FAIR hopes Sessions deals with the immigrants in the country illegally and gives companies incentives not to hire illegal immigrants, which would be the "biggest deterrent," as it is the reason why so many people cross the border without documentation in the first place.
Law enforcement and crime
Sessions is what Jim Pasco, the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, calls a "career civil servant" who has always been "a go-to guy for law enforcement."
"He's always the same unabashed supporter of justice that he's always been," Pasco said of the former top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, revealing that his union has met with Sessions, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in publicly and privately announced meetings.
In every major public speech since being sworn in, Sessions has brought up an increase in crime and has promised the Justice Department will become tougher on crime and help boost public safety.
"These first few months have been a successful opening chapter in what will be a long story about restoring public safety in America," said Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior. "Over the next few months, that story will continue to develop as the department announces new initiatives and renews its commitment to keep our communities safe."
The agency is reviewing any existing or possible consent decrees, which are court-binding agreements that bring in the federal government to help police with reforms. Sessions recently ordered a sweeping review of them, making clear his belief that "it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies."
Pasco and the police union, which was the only police organization which to testify in support of Sessions' confirmation, say they like such an approach.
"He does not see himself as the police chief of every city. He sees himself as an asset, as someone who can facilitate federal assistance in addressing crime problems — but he isn't trying to take any place over," Pasco said.
Pasco says he hopes the next item Sessions' tackles is the so-called militarization of police. The 1033 Program, which gives excessive military equipment to civil law enforcement agencies, was rolled back under Obama.
Beefing up that program is something Pasco says he discussed with Sessions, Trump and Pence, and they are "actively reviewing that now, with a view to ensuring that police officers get and have the assets they need to protect themselves as they protect their cities."
Civil rights were heavily emphasized under Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
One of Lynch's biggest civil rights actions was issuing federal guidance that required schools receiving federal funds to allow transgender students to use the bathroom facility in accordance to their gender identity. Failing to do so would violate federal civil rights law, Lynch said.
In February, the Justice Department and the Department of Education said schools are no longer obligated to follow that guidance, which sparked backlash from LGBTQ groups.
"Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue," Sessions said. "The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying and harassment."
The National Center for Transgender Equality charges that since the administration withdrew the Obama guidance in February, "the administration has begun a sweeping attack on civil rights in the workplace, schools, housing, healthcare and the ballot box."
"The transgender community — comprised of over 1.5 million Americans — is just one of many communities being callously targeted by the administration's actions and rhetoric. Congress and the American people must recognize this threat for what it is and stand up for the dignity and equality of all Americans," said Executive Director Mara Keisling.
On Friday, the Justice Department also withdrew its lawsuit — brought by the Obama administration last year — against North Carolina over its "bathroom bill." The decision to dismiss its lawsuit comes after Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers reached a compromise last month and repealed the legislation — House Bill 2 — requiring transgender people to use public restroom facilities that corresponded to their birth gender.
However, despite the repeal, LGBTQ groups are critical of the new law, saying it still allows for discrimination.
Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under Obama, tweeted against the lawsuit being dropped: "Sadly predictable. They can dismiss but they cannot erase. The fight for LGBTQ justice is strong."
Though Sessions has yet to move on sentencing laws, his hiring of Steven H. Cook, a former federal prosecutor, signals that changes could be coming.
Cook, who has been the president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, was recently appointed to be one of Sessions' top advisers — though it has not been publicly announced — on criminal justice.
"When you put criminals in jail, crime goes down," Cook told the Knoxville, Tenn., News Sentinel last year. "That's what incapacitation is designed to do, and it works."
Known as being a hardliner on sentencing laws like Cook, Sessions has been vocal in his support of mandatory minimum sentences.
During the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo allowing prosecutors the flexibility for no longer having to pursue the mandatory minimum for certain low-level drug offenses. That memo could be in jeopardy not just under Sessions' new Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, but under Cook as well. The National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, under Cook's leadership, opposed Obama's efforts to reform sentencing laws.
"When mandatory minimums are either eliminated or reduced substantially, it reduces the ability of law officers to negotiate and protect the public," Sessions said at a Senate hearing in 2015. "I've been there, I've prosecuted cases."