Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was officially named the chairman of a Judiciary Subcommittee that oversees immigration, according to various media reports and confirmed by the subcommittee’s Twitter account. And while most Senate Republicans are likely to take a different tack on immigration than when the Democrats were in the majority, there is reason to believe that Sessions could push a particularly anti-immigrant agenda, and seek to block the president from slowing down the number of deportations.
In a 25-page memo hand-delivered before the GOP retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania last week, Sessions suggested the creation of nine measures or amendments 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.” He added that lawmakers could “feel free to reach out to my office if you are interested in seeing legislative language for these reforms.”
Sessions has long been critical of immigration legislation that could bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. When the Senate introduced its comprehensive immigration bill in 2013, Sessions said, “I’ve never seen a more calculated, cold-blooded PR campaign managed to advance a piece of legislation than this one.” He also asserted the need to “move away from ethnic politics.” When House Republicans introduced their own set of immigration principles in 2014, Sessions called those proposals an “extraordinary act of self-sabotage.” He also warned against allowing too many immigrants into the country, stating that they could create cultural problems.
Sessions has been linked to organizations that drive narratives against immigrants. During a 2013 Senate debate, Sessions hired Janice Kephart, director of national security policy at the immigration-restrictionist organization Center for Immigration Studies, to work against the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill. And CIS’ sister organization, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), awarded Sessions with the Franklin Society award for his opposition to immigration legislation back in 2007. Both organizations were created by the white nationalist John Tanton, who once wrote a paper titled “The Case for Passive Eugenics” and openly professed his preference for white people.
And despite reiterating over and over that immigrants would take jobs away from African-Americans, Sessions isn’t exactly a proponent of civil rights. He’s referred to the NAACP and the ACLU as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” organizations that “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” And Thomas Figures, an African-American attorney who once worked for Sessions testified that Sessions said that he “used to think [the KKK] were OK” until he found out some of them were “pot smokers.” The same attorney also recalled being called “boy” by Sessions and being told to “be careful what you say to white folks” after Sessions overheard him chastising a white secretary.
Since the new Congress began, Sessions has endorsed the Aderholt Amendment, an anti-immigrant amendment included in the Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which would limit the exercise of prosecutorial discretion used by the Obama administration to determine which immigrants to place into deportation proceedings. That amendment would also keep in place Secure Communities, a controversial federal immigration enforcement program that has ensnared as many as 283,000 immigrants, some of whom have committed low-level offenses like missing a license plate screw, into the deportation dragnet. Obama ended S-Comms as part of his executive action.