Our VoiceImmigration

Sen. Sessions is sure to be a disaster as new leader of key immigration panel

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Jan 26, 2015
Senate Luncheons

Here are two things I’m sure of. Sen. Jeff Sessions despises immigrants. Sessions is now chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee that oversees all immigration issues.

Given the party’s recent collective chuckle and middle-finger to the country over this issue, his appointment is hardly surprising.

The senator from Alabama even issued a 23-page proposal for his fellow Republicans in Congress just earlier this month, something his office is calling an “Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority.”

Now, he has long bellowed his opposition to immigrant-presence here in the United States, but even a cursory examination of his new “Handbook” proves why and how Sessions is the worst possible choice for this particular chairmanship.

Here are three points anyone who cares about civil rights, the rights of immigrants — and equality in general — will want to understand about Sessions’ appointment.

 Jeff Sessions is certainly no “Champion for American Workers”

But that’s what he wants all Republicans to regurgitate: “We’re pro-American worker.” Their congressional votes say otherwise.

So does Sessions’ “Handbook.”

The senator’s work leans almost completely on deceptions and distortions of immigrants and the U.S. economy. In July 2013, he wrote a memo to congressional Republicans, advocating for a return to “humble and honest populism” that might better speak to ordinary Americans through messages that focus on “the American worker” about the perils of immigration—because, you know, immigrants caused the global financial crisis of 2007-08.

Joking aside, Sessions spends the vast bulk of his “Handbook” either chastising or emboldening Republicans to adopt such rhetoric.

On page 17, in one of his many iterations of such populist sentiments, he proclaims, “I work for the American People.” Sessions is perhaps never more of a liar than when he’s claims so. His voting record proves he’s a liar, as he consistently stands against measures that would ease the financial and job-related struggles of so millions of working Americans.

This doesn’t stop him from penning self-righteous talking points for Republicans debating the issue, though.

Sessions’ hypocrisy astounds further.

In 2013, he openly supported and endorsed an anti-immigrant front group that was led by a businessman who operates a private company specializing in international off-shoring and out-sourcing.

Sessions only policy proposals are rooted “self-deportation”

In the wake of Obama’s lawful executive action on immigration, Republicans have, yet again, responded with obstructions and distortions rather than solutions. After all, House Republican’s pathetic failure to address the issue forced the president’s hand.

But why “lead” when you can play politics.

Last Tuesday, the New York Times editorial board lambasted a groundless lawsuit brought by the Republican governors and some attorney generals of 26 states against Obama’s action on immigration as “a meritless screed wrapped in flimsy legal cloth and deposited on the doorstep of a federal district judge in Brownsville, Tex.” We called it “a nativist publicity stunt” a couple of weeks ago.

Because it is.

Importantly, the Times‘ editorial board circled-back to 2012, writing, “After Mitt Romney’s disastrous presidential pose on ‘self-deportation,’ the party went through a stretch of sobriety and sought to enhance its damaged brand by getting in line with the public, which rejects mass deportation in favor of having immigrants come forward, pay taxes and get right with the law.”

That sobriety proved ephemeral, five months worth in 2013, and was located solely in a Senate where then it was the minority party. As Sessions’ “Handbook” is a guidebook for Republicans, and as the party looks to sweep 2016, Republicans are proving they were simply superb at concealing how drunk they really were.

On immigration, in that way, they collectively resemble “Meredith” from the hit NBC show The Office.

On page 8 of his memo, for example, Sessions lists out nine broad policy proposals that all find their origin in the organized anti-immigrant movement’s doctrine of “self-deportation,” also known as “attrition through enforcement.” The point of this doctrine is simple: Make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they simply vacate the country on their own.


Sen. Sessions and Kephart.

Some of the earliest theorizing about “attrition through enforcement” is traceable to works published in the mid-1980s by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the think-tank serving today’s anti-immigrant movement. CIS holds long standing relationships with like-minded members of Congress, of which Sessions is just one. We have documented his involvement with CIS and its sister groups extensively. While the Senate debated its immigration reform bill in 2013, during its “sober” period, Sessions hired on a CIS staffer, Janice Kephart, to aid him in obstructing the bill. Literally, she was photographed whispering in his ear while the debate trudged forward.

CIS’s record of producing shaky research that supports pre-existing policy goals led to The Daily Beast dubbing it, “Immigration’s False-Fact Think Tank.”

Sessions’ citing and sourcing of CIS’s work in his “Handbook” extends into double figures. Point blank, he is injecting the policy goals of wealthy, special interest bigots into Congress. The reasons as to why are obvious: Clearly, Sessions and the organized anti-immigrant movement are grinding an axe they share.

After listing out the aforementioned policies, Sessions goes further: “Please feel free to reach out to my office if you are interested in seeing legislative language for these reforms.”

Sessions’ offering of “self-deportation” policies – like criminalizing overstays by those who held legal visas – will reflect poorly on Republicans. Any lawmaker who follows his lead has no concept of proper law enforcement practice. Far from perfect, the crux of Obama’s executive action is the high-prioritization of actual criminals, their capture, detention, and eventual deportation. The executive branch is seeking to make our country more safe, not less. These policies purposefully make ALL undocumented immigrants of equal priority, and so violent criminals become harder to catch, ensuring the likes of Sessions and CIS can continue complaining about such individuals.

“Self-deportation” is a strategy for forcing out immigrants who are already here, particularly those who are undocumented. It is a strategy of the weak-minded who only project themselves as strong-willed.

Sessions also wants the U.S. to re-adopt immigration laws from nearly 100 years ago, halting all immigration into the U.S.

“Self-deportation” doesn’t go far enough for Sessions.

Without exaggeration, some of Sessions’ proposals would plunge immigration policy and enforcement back into the depths of overreach, isolationism, and nativism exhibited during the Coolidge Administration of the 1920s. On page 10 of his “Handbook,” Sessions openly advocates for a return to that era’s immigration policies.

And that’s indicative of how evolved Sessions’ views on immigration truly are: He’s apparently fine with our country returning to a time when racist-eugenicist thinkers like Henry Laughlin were helping shape our immigration policy, structuring it through racial quotas.

Laughlin, if you didn’t know, believed women should be involuntary sterilized at the government’s discretion. As we at the Center for New Community have written of him: “Laughlin claimed that Hitler was ‘the first politician […] who has recognized that the central mission of all politics is race hygiene.’ He believed that the ‘great mass of defectiveness’ extended by immigrants, the ‘feebleminded,’ and children of mixed-race parentage would eventually swarm and suffocate a white European American racial composition.”

Laughlin became the most important lobbyist on behalf of nativist forces pushing for the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, which Coolidge signed into law in May of that year. On page 3 of his “Handbook,” Sessions argues that the financial struggles of everyday Americans today mirror those of American nearly 100 years ago and, therefore, so should our country’s immigration policies. Conveniently ignoring the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the impact of WWII on our economy, Sessions writes on page 10, “Only an adjustment in policy will change this trajectory [of rises in immigration levels]—just as policy was changed early in the 20th century to allow labor markets to tighten.”

Striping away the code words, those laws legalized an intricate system of racist quotas and protocols rooted not solely in the science of economics but in the pseudo-science of eugenics, as evidenced by Laughlin’s quotes above, who was acting Superintendent for the Eugenics Record Office when the law was enacted.

If he works for the American people, Sessions should explain where he falls with regards to Laughlin’s views since he’s so eager to reenact the policies that resulted from them as contemporary, conservative economic measures requiring the vanishing and banishing of immigrants from our country.

And so here’s something else I’m now sure of. Sen. Jeff Sessions will prove a disaster as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on immigration.

Aaron Patrick Flanagan is the Director of Research at the Center for New Community.

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