Foreshadowing our need for a strong defense against destructive immigration policies is the President-elect’s recent selection of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General of the United States. Sessions’ rhetoric and demeanor offend the honor of the Attorney General position, evidenced by repeated allegations against him of making racist, predatory remarks.
As head of the Department of Justice and chief legal counsel to the president, the duties of the attorney general are extraordinarily influential. In addition to representing the United States, the attorney general is charged with the protection of vulnerable populations from violations of federal law. Yet it is these vulnerable populations — particularly minorities and immigrants — that Sessions repeatedly attacks.
President Reagan nominated Sessions for a federal judgeship in Alabama in 1986, but sworn statements during his confirmation hearings revealed his disdain for the NAACP and ACLU, calling the organizations “un-American,” and his nonchalance about the Ku Klux Klan. Allegations about Sessions’ racist remarks and actions, as well as derogatory statements he made to African Americans, ultimately led to the Senate’s rejection of his nomination — a remarkably rare occurrence. Since 1789, the Senate has explicitly rejected fewer than 2 percent of all cabinet nominees.
Not only does Sessions’ dismissal of civil rights undermine his credibility, his long history of severe restrictions on immigration is alarming. Sessions has vehemently opposed immigration reform legislation and voted to deny all federal funding to any city identified as a sanctuary city.
From his potential post as Attorney General, Senator Sessions can implement his long-standing fear of immigrants by prosecuting low-level offenses and legitimizing unwarranted, severe penalties, and by cutting funding to sanctuary cities. He can also implement procedural and administrative changes that will negatively affect any immigrant — legal or illegal — attempting to navigate the legal system. For instance, by hiring additional immigration judges and putting in place expedited removal proceedings, Senator Sessions can hurriedly deport millions of immigrants who may have a legal right to be in the United States.
Perhaps most indicative of Senator Sessions’ inability to divorce his personal political beliefs from enforcement of our laws is evidenced by his support for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
While suspension of immigration from certain parts of the world may have a legal basis, it is constitutionally untenable to ban Muslim immigrants. Harking back to the embarrassing Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 used to halt the influx of Chinese laborers, a new religious-based ban would violate similar Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, due process, and equal protection.
Certainly, Presidents have significant latitude with regard to immigration policy and executive power, making it especially critical that the Attorney General, as the highest legal scholar in America, approach issues with a principled and objective eye — an eye Sessions most certainly does not possess.