The Republican establishment is increasingly anxious about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency, but at least one establishment Republican is enthusiastic about it. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), arguably the Senate’s most important voice on immigration policy, endorsed Trump on Sunday. Sessions’ seal of approval reflects just how some of Trump’s extreme ideas about immigrants could become reality.
Trump’s immigration platform includes building a border wall to seal off Mexico and mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.
During the rally where he made his endorsement official, Sessions — who was once denied a federal judgeship after it came to light that he said he “used to think [the KKK] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers” — told thousands of Trump supporters, “You have asked for 30 years, and politicians have promised for 30 years, to fix illegal immigration… We have an opportunity Tuesday — it may be the last opportunity we have — for the people’s voice to be heard.”
“We want strong borders!” Trump yelled, according to the Wall Street Journal’s account of the rally. “We want the wall!”
Just days before he endorsed Trump, Sessions, the chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, told Breitbart News that building a border wall is “essential” to defending American sovereignty and is the “right thing” to do in order to “make clear to the whole world… that the border is not open and we mean it, and we’re going to enforce it, and if you attempt to come, you’ll be apprehended and promptly deported.”
Right about the time he was appointed to his subcommittee chair post, Sessions distributed a memo to lawmakers advocating a number of policy changes that would make life harder for immigrants, like “closing asylum and refugee loopholes,” “cancelling federal funds to sanctuary cities,” “empowering local officials to coordinate with ICE officers,” and “ending catch-and-release on the border with mandatory detention and expedited deportation.”
Before formally backing Trump, Sessions also defended the anti-immigrant record of one of his Senate colleagues, presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who also supports building a border wall and deporting undocumented immigrants. After Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) attacked Cruz during a presidential debate for being inconsistent in his opposition to a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, Sessions appeared at a Cruz rally in Iowa and said, “Ted Cruz was with me, Steve King, Mike Lee and others who were opposed to [the 2013 Senate immigration reform] bill. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Despite Trump’s super-heated rhetoric, he’s on the same page as the Republican establishment when it comes to immigration. Cruz also agrees that America’s 11 undocumented immigrants should be deported, perhaps forcefully by a “deportation force,” and a wall should be built to prevent to seal the border from anyone else thinking of trying to cross illegally. Rubio, meanwhile, has assumed a more draconian tone about immigration in recent weeks, saying he now supports hiring 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, finishing 700 miles of fences and walls along the U.S./Mexico border, and stripping federal funding from “sanctuary cities” like Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C.