With Congress stalled on immigration reform of any kind and Trump bellowing over the airwaves with his hateful, manic rhetoric as we head into the midterm elections, U.S. Attorney General and former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions has found a quieter way to rewrite immigration laws to fit this administration’s nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda.
Sessions’ attack on people of color did not begin with his appointment on February 9, 2017. In fact, in 1986, former President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions to be a United States District Judge, but his nomination failed after testimony surfaced from colleagues about several racially-charged comments that Sessions allegedly made while serving in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Additionally, Sessions has long been an opponent of both legal and illegal immigration, opposing several immigration reform measures during his time as a U.S. Senator and even claiming a “clear nexus between immigration and terrorism” on his Senate website post-9/11.
In his first year as Attorney General, Sessions lashed out at sanctuary cities and made it clear that this administration was coming for anyone who entered or remained in the United States without lawful status.
In 2017, Sessions also delivered the administration’s decision and legal basis for ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (9/5/2017). (This has also been blocked by the federal courts, for now.)
In year two, because increased arrests and detentions do not do the job on their own, this year, Sessions has turned his focus to the immigration court system, using his power as Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice (DOJ), under which the immigration courts and judges fall, to increase the likelihood that a case ends in removal from the United States.
The attorney general of the United States has the authority to refer any Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision to him- or herself for review. Historically, this power has been used sparingly, particularly by Democrat-appointed attorneys general, in part because the office understands that the judges who sit on the Board of Immigration Appeals have experience in immigration law and are placed on the Board to be “unbiased adjudicators.” However, Sessions has made his personal bias – and his cunning understanding of how to play the system to suit the administration’s agenda – very clear: by referring a case to himself, he knows that he can single-handedly overturn a Board precedent and change the way immigration cases play out in the courts; and this is precisely what he has spent this year doing.
A number of current and former immigration judges, including the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), as well as some BIA members, have spoken out against these measures. Additionally, “dirty immigration lawyers” across the country are fighting back daily against the inhumane policies and practices of this administration; and a number of these policies have lost in the federal courts, thanks to the work of many dedicated lawyers and advocates and the decisions of federal judges who stand to uphold the standard of law in this country.
Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” As long as Sessions sits behind the curtain, manufacturing and micro-managing the Trump administration’s deportation assembly line and working to create a complacent judiciary to man the machinery, his very position endangers due process, justice, and the independence of immigration judges nationwide. Thus, we must continue to push back against his agenda— through the courts, through fact-based media attention on these issues, and through voter education and legislative action.
If you are legally able to vote in the midterms, vote (you can verify your registration status and find your polling place here: https://www.headcount.org/verify-voter-registration/). Drive someone to the polls. Volunteer to canvass this next week. Contact your local, state, and congressional representatives (https://whoismyrepresentative.com/) and let them know where you stand. Talk to your neighbors, family, and friends. Do what it takes to be educated and informed on the issues. Speak out. Resist.
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