A Look At Attorney General Appointee Jeff Sessions’ Long History of Hostility Toward Latinos

Lead Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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Throughout his long and varied career, Sen. Jeff Sessions has built a reputation as a staunchly conservative figure. Once considered for the role of federal judge after an appointment from President Ronald Reagan, the Republican-controlled Senate eventually rejected him because former colleagues painted him as a racist. And 30 years later, there’s no evidence that Sessions has shed that image. As a matter of fact, the New York Times – which has described him as a generally well-liked figure in the Senate – said he’s left behind a “toxic cloud of hostility to racial equality, voting rights, women’s rights, [and] criminal justice reform.”

Yet, this week could see Sessions named the country’s next attorney general. He’ll possibly replace Loretta E. Lynch – the 83rd attorney general – and opponents are concerned of the amount of damage he could bring to people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community through this office.

Heading up the country’s justice department, the role of the attorney general is an important one. He or she “represents the United States in legal matters generally and gives advice and opinions to the President and to the heads of the executive departments of the Government when so requested,” according to the Department of Justice’s website. As an immigration lawyer writes on the Huffington Post, as the AG, he’d have complete control over immigration courts, which could bring devastating changes. He could decide who to deported, and he could make it difficult for immigrants to understand their legal rights or to receive legal representation.

In his 20-year history as a Senator, this is the first time that Sessions backed a candidate during the presidential primary. As president-elect Donald Trump maligned vulnerable communities, Sessions closely aligned himself with the reality star. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee – which Sessions served on as the ranking Republican – began its confirmation hearings for the Alabama senator. As one of Trump’s most controversial picks, Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to rush through Sessions’ confirmation hearing. Opponents say that limiting the session to just two days and only allowing Democrats to call four witnesses is a ploy to avoid digging into his past. The Nation reports that Dianne Feinstein also asked that the hearing start later, because Sessions failed to completely fill out a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. However, Sen. Chuck Grassley denied the request.

With Senate confirmations taking place without full background checks and ethics reviews, there’s been plenty of pushback. This includes activists encouraging citizens to contact Republican senators or to sign a petition letting the senate judiciary committee know that they don’t support Sessions. During the hearings, protesters also interrupted and leveled charges against him. As promised, officers escorted anyone who disrupted the hearing. And according to Washington Post politics reporter Dave Weigel, even laughing at someone extolling Sessions was grounds for removal.

Latino leaders have also denounced Trump for picking Sessions. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said, “If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible, and women stayed in the kitchen, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man.”

But if there’s any opponent whose most made waves throughout this process, it’s likely Sen. Cory Booker. Breaking with tradition, Booker – a sitting senator – testified against another senator. In a five-minute speech, Booker maintained that Sessions wouldn’t fight for African Americans or other people of color. “The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice, we must bend it,” Booker said. “America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Senator Sessions’s record does not speak to that desire, intention, or will.”

Sessions is an extension of the hate that Trump espoused during his presidential campaign. As he inches closer to the country’s top law enforcement position, here’s a reminder of the many ways he’s stood in the way of progress:


He has little regard for voting rights.

Recently, Sessions filed a questionnaire with the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he positioned himself as a hero for voting rights. After facing backlash, he recanted the statement and said he provided “assistance and guidance” on cases three cases that dealt with voting rights and one that dealt with desegregation in school. The truth is that Sessions has spent his career trying to disenfranchise black and Latino voters.

In the 2013 Supreme Court decision for Shelby County v. Holder, parts of the Voting Rights Act were wiped out. It made it so that states with a history of voter discrimination no longer had to seek clearance from the Department of Justice to change election law. As Fusion explains, it’s the Voting Rights Act that kept states in line. It made voter ID laws in Texas, and “quashed gerrymandering” in North Carolina.

In the first presidential election since the blow to the Voting Rights Act, a court found Pasadena, Texas guilty of trying to suppress Latino voters. 62 percent of the population is Latino, but they lagged white voters at the polls, the Huffington Post reports.

When the Supreme Court first ruled to limit the protections of the Voting Rights Act, Sessions openly celebrated the decision as a victory for the south. “If you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin,” Sessions said, adding that he didn’t believe Shelby County in Alabama violated the the act, even though there’s well-documented evidence to the contrary.

The Nation predicts that as attorney general, Sessions could support a nationwide voter ID law or he could push for the prosecution of voter fraud – even though there’s proof that this isn’t an issue in the United States. In 1985, Sessions tried and failed to charge three civil rights activists from Alabama of committing voter fraud. 31 years later, he maintains that this is an issue plaguing the electoral system. “We have seen fraud repeatedly and there is a problem if you don’t use an ID when you go to vote, because you can vote for some other name that you know is not available to vote that day,” he said.


He denounced the DREAM Act.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act is a bipartisan bill providing a path to citizenship for non-citizens who grew up in the United States. After two years of serving in the U.S. armed forces or pursuing higher education, they’d be eligible for residency. Not only did Sessions oppose the DREAM Act, he spread misinformation about it. “The scope of this proposal is enormous, extending amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants including a number who have committed serious crimes, incentivizing further illegality and making it more difficult to develop a just and responsible immigration policy,” said Stephen Miller, Sessions’ spokesman.

However, according to America’s Voice, the DREAM Act looked to strengthen both the economy and the military, and was only offered to those “with strong moral character.”

Yet, Sessions maintained that the DREAM Act contained a “potential loophole for high-risk individuals placed on a pathway to citizenship,” and he rejected every version of the bill.


He said Dominicans have no provable skills.

One video unearthed from 2006 features Sessions on the U.S. Senate floor. During an immigration reform debate under President George W. Bush’s administration, he stood before a crowd and denigrated Dominicans.

“Fundamentally, almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming here because they have a provable skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society,” he said, according to the Huffington Post.“They come in because some other family member of a qualified relation is here as a citizen or even a green card holder. That is how they get to come. They are creating a false document to show these are relatives or their spouses and they married when it is not so.”


He doesn't support women's reproductive rights.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions promised to uphold Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the US. However, his history of trying to impede abortion rights doesn’t inspire much confidence. Since at least 1999, he’s voted against a Roe v. Wade resolution, a $100 million fund for family planning services, and to allow military base abortions, Quartz reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women of color are more likely to have abortions than white women. Particularly among low-income women, lack of healthcare and birth control mean that the odds are stacked against them. White households earn on average 18 times more than Latino households, and 20 times more than black households. The Atlantic points out that income inequality isn’t the only reason that WOC – especially black women – have more abortions than white women. While all the factors remain unclear, what we do know is that blocking access to safe abortions disproportionately affects our community.


He's chummy with anti-immigration groups.

As America’s Voice notes, Sessions has a close relationship with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), NumbersUSA, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). These three anti-immigration organizations inform his views, and he’s often heard citing them. And these orgs love Sessions right back. NumbersUSA named Sessions its 2008 Defender of the Rule of Law.

John Tatton has played a role in the inception of all these organizations, and their normalization matters. “These groups have infiltrated the mainstream by presenting themselves as legitimate commentators, when, in reality, they were all conceived by a man who is convinced that non-white immigrants threaten America,” said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “They have never strayed far from their roots.”


He opposed undocumented children being sent to Alabama.

For years, unaccompanied children from Central America – primarily Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – have overwhelmed the country’s immigration system. Though they’re fleeing gang violence back in their native countries, many have refused to recognize them as refugees. In fiscal 2016 – which ended on September 30 – Border Patrol agents stopped 137,366 unaccompanied minors on the border.

Over the summer, the White House planned to send thousands of undocumented children to Alabama. Sen. Sessions denounced this decision. “It’s just maddening,” he said, according to the Washington Examiner. “What’s happening in Alabama is happening [around] the country and it is the result of idiotic policy cannot [ever] work, that’s encouraging more people to come illegally, and then we treat them, we house them, we feed them for months, and we release them basically on bail and then they just go where they wanted to go to begin with.”


He led the campaign against Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation.

Today, Sonia Sotomayor serves as the first Latina on the Supreme Court. But back in 2009, Republicans tried to use her heritage as a way to deny her the position to the country’s highest court. And Sessions, as Mother Jones noted, “was fixated on discrimination against white people.” He led the GOP opposition to Sotomayor, and accused her of lacking the ability to be impartial because of her Puerto Rican background.

On the floor he said, “While differences in style and background are to be welcomed on the Court, no one should sit on the Supreme Court, or any court, who is not committed to setting aside their personal opinions and biases when they render opinions and who is not committed faithfully to following the law, whether they like the law or not. Impartiality is the ideal of American law. Judges take an oath to pursue it, and the American people rightly expect it.”

He went on to explain that her speeches and extrajudicial writings reveal an “activist view of judging.” He believes that one of her most famous quotes – “a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male” – is proof positive that she couldn’t do the job.

The hearings had an air of hostility, which prompted law professor Sherrilyn Ifill to speak out and say that “it was an unequal power situation. She was not in a position to honestly engage with them, because she needed their votes.”


He backed the harshest immigration law in the country.

In 2011, Alabama passed HB 56 – a law that made the southern state the harshest on immigration. It sparked panic across the undocumented community. Landlords could no longer rent homes to them and police could stop and arrest them just because of their status. Even though that same year ICE released a memo stating that raids shouldn’t occur at sensitive locations – including schools, hospitals, and churches – schools weren’t a safe space for undocumented children. Before enrolling students, schools had to verify children’s immigration status. According to Think Progress, thousands of Latino children were too afraid to attend school.

And much like many Republican lawmakers in the state, Sen. Jeff Sessions had no sympathy for the childrens’ distress. Laura Ingraham asked Sessions if he thought it was “bad” that “all these Hispanic kids have disappeared from the schools.” “All I would just say to you is that it’s a sad thing that we’ve allowed a situation to occur for decades that large numbers of people are int he country illegal and it’s going to have unpleasant, unfortunate consequences.”


He wants to amend the 14th Amendment.

The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States. But in 2010 Senator Lindsay Graham expressed his desire to amend the constitution to remove this right. Sen. Sessions backed this move. “I don’t think the founders understood when they did the 14th amendment that they would create a circumstance where people could fly into America, all over the world and have a child and that child would have dual citizenship, fly back to their home countries,” he said, according to ABC News. “It has been clearly abused.”

Six years later, he’s still hoping to do away with the 14th Amendment. When Trump campaigned, he proposed undoing automatically granting citizenship to children of immigrants. Sessions once again spoke out against the amendment. “Look, the matter is somewhat disputed, but Ed Meese — former Attorney General for Ronald Reagan — wrote a paper with some other scholars, a number of years ago, declaring that it does not mandate a person that is born here with parents who are illegal get citizenship in the United States. And it’s a pretty persuasive paper,” he stated. “This absolutely is not an extreme position.”