Jeff Sessions is out, but his dark vision for immigration policy lives on

By | November 9, 2018

Jonathan Blitzer writes:

For more than two decades, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s hostility to immigrants put him on the outer fringes of the Republican Party. When Congress seemed likely to pass comprehensive immigration reform—first in 2007, then in 2013—Sessions worked assiduously to scuttle it. In 2015, after the Republicans took control of the Senate, he circulated a memo titled “Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority,” in which he argued that the G.O.P. had lost the Presidency in 2012 partly because it failed to curtail legal immigration to the U.S. The next year, he became the first U.S. senator to back Donald Trump in the Republican Presidential primaries, which at once bolstered Sessions’s flagging public profile and legitimized Trump’s candidacy in the eyes of anti-immigration hawks. (“Sessions was Trump’s Good Housekeeping seal of approval,” Mark Krikorian, the head of the Center for Immigration Studies, an influential anti-immigration think tank, told me last year.) Addressing a group of immigration judges in Virginia last October, Sessions paused to marvel at his own good luck. “I’m just astounded that President Trump made the miraculous intervention, and I’m the Attorney General of the United States,” he said, grinning broadly. “It’s really, really hard to believe.”

On Wednesday, Sessions resigned under pressure from the White House. For the past year and a half, the President, who felt betrayed that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, in March, 2017, had routinely mocked and insulted his Attorney General. Trump upbraided him in the Oval Office, called him a “dumb Southerner” behind his back, and taunted him in speeches and on Twitter. (“I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me,” Trump said in September. “He wanted to be Attorney General, and I didn’t see it.”) But, as the Trump Administration adopted increasingly draconian policies, it became clear that, for Sessions, orchestrating the most systematic and wide-reaching assault on immigrants in modern history was well worth enduring near-constant humiliations from the President. As the government’s top lawyer, Sessions was responsible for, among other things, cancelling DACA, spurring family separations, trying to defund sanctuary cities, dismantling the asylum system, reshaping the immigration courts, and retooling multiple travel bans. To the extent that the President has styled himself as an anti-immigration crusader, it’s with a script written entirely by Sessions.

Trump’s immigration agenda has always faced an administrative hurdle that Sessions was particularly determined, and well-positioned, to try to overcome: the President wants to deport more people than the machinery of the federal bureaucracy can possibly process. [Continue reading…]

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