Today President-elect Donald Trump announced his nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for attorney general. Sessions’ track record of overtly bigoted statements and close ties to organized racist movements should raise serious questions about his fitness to serve in that position.
With this nomination, Trump is rewarding an early supporter and close advisor who has long championed the type of deeply anti-immigrant policies on which he built his presidential campaign.
Sessions is perhaps the most dangerous ally of the organized anti-immigrant movement in Congress, and has risen to prominence as an advocate of ruthless and unconstitutional immigration enforcement measures, brutal anti-immigrant laws intended to force immigrants to self-deport, drastic reductions in legal immigration, and revocation of the constitutionally protected right to citizenship for those born in the United States.
Sessions has attempted to frame his anti-immigrant advocacy as support for American workers, but his record of voting against workers’ rights belies his claims.
Champion of extremist nativist network
Sen. Jeff Sessions support for these severe anti-immigrant measures is not surprising. For years, he has closely collaborated with a network of extremist organizations founded by a white nationalist with the goal of reducing immigration to maintain a white majority in the United States.
One of these extremist groups is the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that uses inflammatory rhetoric and disingenuous representations of facts to accomplish its anti-immigrant goals. Sessions has lifted up this group’s false facts, and regularly calls its staff to testify before Congress. Just this March, Sessions invited CIS Director of Research Steven Camarota to testify before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.
Camarota once warned that “even if immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, their children and grandchildren may be more likely to end up on the wrong side of the law.” In 2014 another CIS staffer, senior policy analyst Stephen Steinlight, said about President Obama that “being hung, drawn and quartered is probably too good for him.” Steinlight still works for CIS. Recently, CIS has also published Jason Richwine, who was fired from the Heritage Foundation because of his work asserting that Latino people have lower IQs than white people.
Sessions’ work with CIS goes much deeper. A few examples: In May 2013, Sessions hired then-CIS staff member Janice Kephart as counsel while the Senate Judiciary Committee considered immigration reform bill S.744. In March 2016, Sessions praised nativist leaders including anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney and NumbersUSA’s Rosemary Jenks during remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Sessions spoke at a reception at the National Press Club organized by CIS as recently as June 2016.
CIS is not the only anti-immigrant group Sessions supports. Sessions has regularly attended the annual conference organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), called Hold Their Feet To The Fire. FAIR was the first anti-immigrant organization that white nationalist John Tanton founded, and it has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its virulent and false attacks on immigrants. As early as 2007, Sessions accepted an award from FAIR and spoke at the group’s board of advisors dinner.
Sessions has also been feted by explicitly anti-Muslim groups. In October 2015, the conspiracy-spewing anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy (CSP) honored Sessions with its “Keeper of the Flame” award in Washington, D.C. Previous recipients of the CSP award include former Representatives Allen West (R-FL) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN)–both of whom were proponents of Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) McCarthy-esque anti-Muslim congressional investigations in 2011. At the time of the hearings, CSP Founder and President Frank Gaffney lauded King’s investigations as a “formula for dealing with a disease.”
Gaffney’s CSP is not the only anti-Muslim organization to honor Sessions. The Alabama lawmaker was also honored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center in November 2014. “I’ve seen some great people receive this,” Sessions said of the award during his acceptance speech.
At the time, individuals that have received the Freedom Center award previously included vehement anti-Muslim demagogue Pamela Geller and former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the face of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070.
Racist in his own right
For those who know his history, Sen. Jeff Sessions single minded advocacy for and support from the anti-immigrant lobby is not surprising. He has a track record of racist statements of his own.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to a federal judgeship. Yet Sessions’ nomination was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee because of his egregious, documented history of racial bias.
According to witnesses, Sessions called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race,” and regularly referred to a black attorney in his office as “boy.” Sessions also called civil rights groups “un-American,” and accused them of trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.”
(Even Sessions’ denials reek of racism. He testified, “I have never used the word ‘boy’ to describe a black…”)
Sessions also reportedly said he wished he could decline all civil rights cases.
After failing to be confirmed for the judgeship, Sessions was elected to the U.S. Senate by Alabama voters, where he has cemented his position as one of the organized anti-immigrant movement’s most strident allies in Congress.
Nominating Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General only entrenches the xenophobia that Trump is bringing to the White House. Senators should once again refuse to confirm Sessions, based on his past and current track record of racism and bigotry.