Immigration

Why immigrants fear new Attorney General Sessions

The Alabama senator has opposed legal immigration for more than two decades, linking new arrivals to terrorism. During the campaign he was one of the closest advisers to President-elect Trump.
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Jeff Sessions was sworn in Thursday as Attorney General AP

If President-elect Donald Trump was looking for somone in his cabinet with immigration - or better yet, anti-immigration - experience, for the position of Attorney General, he didn't have to look far.

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Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions who was sworn in Thursday was one of the first senators to back Trump early in the presidential race.

“We need a lawful system of immigration, one that serves the interest of the people of the us, that’s not wrong or inmoral, its not indecent," Sessions said at his White House swearing in, standing with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

"We admit a million of people a year plus, lawfully ... we need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down wages or working Americans," he added.

Sessions was instrumental in shaping the candidacy and policies of the president-elect, especially in immigration matters, one of the hallmarks of Trump's campaign - and Sessions' political career.

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"When I talk about immigration and all the problems of crime and everything else, I think of a great man ... Senator Jeff Sessions," Trump said in announcing the endorsement of Sessions at a rally in Madison, Alabama in February

"Politicians have promised for 30 years to fix illegal immigration," Sessions said, at the same event. "Donald Trump will do it."

Cargando ...

And with good reason. Sessions opposed virtually all immigration bills that have passed through the Senate in the last two decades that have included a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, according to the The Washington Post.

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Sessions, 69, is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and one of many Republicans and Democrats who agree that the nation's immigrations laws are broken and need overhaul. But he places border security and tough enforcement of deportation for undocumented immigrants at the top of his agenda, strongly opposing any form of amnesty.

Several minority and civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have sharply opposed the choice of Sessions as attorney general.

"[Sessions] has opposed sensible immigration proposals with incendiary language, consorts with hardline nativist groups and strongly supported the Alabama state immigration law that intentionally forced tens of thousands of Latinos out of the state – before a 2012 Supreme Court decision held such state laws to be unconstitutional," said Frank Sharry, president of the America's Voice, an immigrants rights group in Washington.

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"If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man," U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez, of Ilinois, said in a statement after Sessions was nominated last month. "No Senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions."

Reince Priebus, Trump's choice for White House chief of staff, called such criticism “very political, very unfair” during an interview on ABC's “This Week,” highlighting his record as a former U.S. Attorney and his ability to work across the political aisle on major legislation.

The Trump campaign pointed out that Sessions voted for President Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder to be the first black attorney general in 2009 as well as the award of a congressional Gold Medal of Honor for Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon from Alabama.

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Anti-Immigration Laboratory

Alabama is also seen as one of the country's anti-immigration laboratories, a testing ground for highly restrictive laws such as HB 56 in 2011 which required police to arrest anyone with a "reasonable suspicion" of being in the country illegally, and prohibited undocumented immigrants form receiving public services, including education for children.

When asked about the impact on children of HB 56 Sessions responded: "I would only say it s a sad thing that we’ve allowed a situation to occur for decades that large numbers of people are in the country illegal and it’s going to have unpleasant, unfortunate consequences."

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Sessions has also linked illegal immigration with terrorism. In 2007, when a comprehensive immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called Gang of 8 was being debated in Congress, Sessions referred to this bill as "the 2007 Terrorist Assistance and Facilitation Bill."

Prior to that, in 2006, Sessions supported the construction of 700 miles of fencing on the southern border with Mexico. "Good fences make good neighbors," he said.

Sessions has also opposed some forms of legal immigration, including temporary worker programs and visa programs for foreign workers in science, math and high technology.

In a column for The Washington Post in 2015, Sessions wrote that "legal immigration is the primary source of low-wage immigration into the United States ... What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together."

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In a 2006 speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sessions launched a surprising attack on immigrants from the Dominican Republic, saying almost all of them had "no provable skills" and accusing them of "sham marriages," to gain entry to the United States.


“Fundamentally, almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming here because they have a provable skill that would benefit us,” Sessions said. “They come in because some other family member of a qualified relation is here as a citizen or even a green card holder. That is how they get to come. They are creating a false document to show these are relatives or their spouses and they are married when it is not so.”

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New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who will become Congress’ first Dominican-American member when he joins the House next year, offered Sessions a "tutorial" the contributions of Dominican Americans contribute to the United States.

He added that the appointment of Sessions "is any indication of the direction of President-elect Trump’s administration, then every American ― regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or ethnic background ― should take a stand and say that this appointment does not reflect the values that have made America great.”

Accusations of racism

In 1986 Sessions was blocked from becoming federal judge by accusations of racism. His colleagues gave sworn testimony that Sessions used the 'n" word to refer to black people. During a murder case involving the Ku Klux Klan colleagues said he made jokes that they seemed "okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana."

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During those 1986 hearings one of his colleagues, who was African American, testified that Sessions called him a "child" and that he "warned him about how he spoke to white people."

The senator also called a white civil rights lawyer who defended African-Americans "a disgrace" to his race.

Sessions defended himself by saying "I am not a racist. I am not insensitive to blacks," but he did admit to making racially-tinged jokes.

Sessions has also repeatedly complained that the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which protects African-American voting rights, was "intrusive legislation." Others also testified that Sessions referred to the NAACP, which advocates for the rights of African-Americans, as an "anti-American" and "communist" organization. Sessions denied these allegations.

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While allegations of racism prevented Sessions from becoming a judge, they did not prevent him from becoming Alabama's attorney general in 1995.

"Trump is moving us in the right direction"

Sessions has also supported Trump's Muslim ban and an Ideological limus test for immigrants.

“The American people clearly support the idea that if you can’t vet somebody from a dangerous area of the globe, they should not be brought into the United States,” Sessions told CBS’ Face the Nation in August.

“The idea that you ask people about their understanding of what a good government is -- if you have two people, one that believes in a Democratic Republic like we have, one that has an ideology that wants to impose a narrow view of how the government should be run, a theocracy, then why would you not choose the one who’s most harmonious with our values?” Sessions said.

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“I think we can ask some of those questions. We have to be careful. We should talk to our lawyers and think it through carefully," he added.