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Since at least April of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been out across the country giving speeches that are helping to lay the foundation for an anti-immigrant political strategy in the 2018 midterms. Republicans have already made it clear that this is what they will run on this fall, even though has already backfired in several elections since November 2017. Sessions, of course, has long been a “leader” in attacking immigrants, and has been using his role as Attorney General to promote the false conflation of immigrants with crime.
Traditionally, at least since Watergate, US Attorney Generals do not engage in campaign work, but Sessions has made it a point to advance the anti-immigrant narrative in upcoming 2018 races across the country. He is developing a pattern spreading anti-immigrant talking points in speeches made to battleground districts and states — which many Republican candidates then echo. He has repeatedly called for building the wall, used MS-13 as an immigration bogeyman, claimed that immigration is a main culprit in the opioid crisis, and repeated misleading talking points about safe cities.
From the middle of April 2018 to this writing, 19 of the 21 speeches Sessions has given while on the road have had anti-immigrant themes. Sessions was also delivering anti-immigrant speeches in Northern Virginia and in Philadelphia, right across the river from New Jersey, last October. Many Republican candidates in the states he’s visited have made a point to show they are onboard with his strategy and echoed his anti-immigrant talking points.
Below are examples of what Jeff Sessions has been saying around the country and cases where local GOP candidates have been happy to emphasize his message:
In a speech, not about immigration, at the Philadelphia’s Annual Lincoln Day Celebration on February 18, Sessions cheered thet ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), singled out MS-13 by name, and compared safe-city policies to the Southern secessionism that started the Civil War.
Ten days after Sessions’ visit, anti-immigrant ads began attacking Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate running in a special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th district. In April, Republican Dan Meuser, running for a seat in Pennsylvania’s 9th district, also started running anti-immigrant ads on safe cities. And long time anti-immigrant politician, Lou Barletta, started putting out anti-immigrant ads for his Senate campaign.
Sessions returned to Pennsylvania on June 15 to say that “people are living in terror because of the crime and gang activity that illegal aliens have brought here” and blamed MS-13 for “ wreaking havoc” on schools. Sessions falsely claimed that safe cities “intentionally keep criminals in this country,” and that they “send a message to criminals: stay here and we will protect you” — message he repeated in an op-ed in The Inquirer on June 18.
On April 27, Sessions was in Billings, Montana, where he returned on June 7. Both times, he attacked immigrants and painted immigration in terms of drugs and crime. As he said, “unchecked illegal immigration has made the work of police officers all across America tougher and more dangerous than it ought to be.” He continued, “even when you’re not dealing with immigrant crime directly, you’re dealing with it indirectly. For example, most of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl in this country got here across our Southern border.” On June 13, Matt Rosendale, the Republican nominee for Senate, released an anti-immigrant ad calling for building a wall along the southern border.
In a broad speech about crime on May 7 in Arizona, Sessions made sure to talk at length about immigration and falsely claimed a reduction in undocumented immigration would correspond with a reduction of crime. He went on to reiterate his “zero tolerance” policy, highlighting his hope to prosecute all undocumented immigrants crossing the border, and making it clear this policy would separate families. By the end of the week, Martha McSally, a Republican Representative running for Senate, dropped her support for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and began supporting the Goodlatte immigration bill, one of the most extreme and anti-immigrant piece of legislation considered this year.
On April 11, Sessions was in New Mexico, where he claimed the “lack of a wall on the southern border is an open invitation to illegal border crossings.” Sessions went on to blame drug overdoses on the border and blamed the lack of solutions on “open border radicals”. That same day, Republican Senate candidate Mick Rich abruptly released a story about a visit to the border he made two years ago, where he too attempted to connect the issues of drugs and immigration.
Sessions gave a speech in Indiana on June 14, where he defended the Administration’s family separation policy. He claimed, “the vast majority of [asylum] claims are not valid” and that “the Trump administration is working to restore legality to the system”. A few days after Sessions’ visit Mike Braun, the Republican candidate for Senate, made a statement in support of President Trump’s stance on family separation and called for “securing the border.” Previous to this, Braun had been quiet on immigration after he pulled an anti-immigrant TV ad in March over widespread criticism.
On March 15, Sessions was in Tennessee, where he made a point to highlight MS-13 arrests. He came back on May 8, and the day after,Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn took to Twitter to reassert her call for a southern border wall.
Speaking on the opioid crisis in North Dakota on April 27, Sessions made sure to point to “our porous Southern border” as one of the main reasons why drugs were entering the US. Republican Senate candidate Kevin Cramer has mimicked the anti-immigrant playbook attacking safe cities and attempting to connect crime with immigration.