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Two of the Most Telling and Disturbing Exchanges During Day One of Sen. Sessions’ AG Hearings
During the first day of Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, two particular topics and exchanges caught our eye:
Sessions reiterated his longstanding view that the DACA program for Dreamers should end, thereby revoking work permits for 750,000 young people who are pursuing careers and education without fear of deportation because of DACA.
Sessions refused to disavow his ties to extreme anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations. In fact, instead of distancing himself from these associations, Sen. Sessions instead attacked the credibility of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which has researched these groups extensively and labeled some of them to be hate groups.
Senator Sessions and DACA
Unbeknownst to Sessions, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an unqualified success, helping to drive economic growth, bolster job creation, keep families together, promote education and community integration, and strengthen civic ties throughout the country. During exchanges with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Sessions reiterated his view that DACA should end — which would mean that more than 750,000 DACA recipients would lose jobs, educational opportunities and protection against deportation.
“It would certainly be constitutional, I believe, to end that order,” Sen. Sessions said in response to a question from Sen. Graham about DACA’s future. Later, Sen. Durbin said, “What’s going to happen to those 800,000 [DACA recipients] if you revoke that order and they are subject to deportation tomorrow? … What is the humane, legal answer to that?” Sen. Sessions’ response was evasive, but telling:
“The attorney general’s role is to enforce the law. And, as you know, Sen. Durbin, we’re not able financially, or any other way, to seek out and remove everybody that’s in the country illegally. President [-elect] Trump has indicated that criminal aliens — like President Obama indicated — certainly are the top group of people. So I would think that the best thing for us to do — and I would urge colleagues that we understand this — let’s fix this system. And then we can work together after this lawlessness has been ended. And then we can ask the American people and enter into a dialogue about how to compassionately treat people who’ve been here a long time.”
To translate, Senator Sessions’ supports ending DACA, and suggests some day, somehow, some way his colleagues would come together to “fix [the] system.” Of course, Sessions’ has been the chief opponent to every bipartisan effort to do just that, making his words ring hollow. As Sen. Durbin said on MSNBC this morning, “on the issue of immigration, [Sessions] didn’t back off an inch yesterday… 800,000 Dreamers who could … be subject to immediate deportation, he didn’t offer any kind of an approach to this that showed any humanity or concern.”
As a recent economic analysis from the Center for American Progress found, ending DACA for its more than 750,000 recipients, “would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product” over the next decade.
Perhaps more powerful than the clear economic benefit of DACA are the personal testimonials from Dreamers, who have highlighted how DACA transformed their lives and futures–and exactly what is at stake for them if it is ended. Click through this New York Times collection of Dreamers’ stories and watch the Senate testimony of Dreamer and veteran Oscar Vasquez for additional examples of why it’s in America’s interest to continue DACA. And read this powerful statement by Denisse Rojas, a DACA-mented medical school student, who was present at yesterday’s hearing.
Senator Sessions And Ties to Extremists
In a sustained back and forth between Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Sessions (see video here), Sen. Blumenthal explored Sen. Sessions’ disturbing ties to extreme, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations. Blumenthal asked why Sessions had failed to report these awards and ties in his nominee questionnaire, and noted that these associations call into question Sen. Sessions’ commitment to anti-discrimination issues. In response, Sessions chose not to disavow these awards and associations, but instead attack the credibility of highly-respected civil rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Specifically, Sen. Blumenthal noted that Sen. Sessions had accepted awards from anti-Muslim extremist organizations, such as the David Horowitz Freedom Center in 2014 and Frank Gafney’s Center for Security Policy in 2015 (see backgrounders from the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center). Blumenthal also noted Sen. Sessions’ relationship with FAIR, a designated anti-immigrant hate group according to the SPLC, founded by white nationalist John Tanton.
Senator Blumenthal: “Senator Sessions, how can Americans have confidence you’re going to enforce anti-discrimination laws if you’ve accepted awards from these kinds of groups and associated with these kinds of individuals?”
Senator Sessions: “I don’t know that I’ll defer to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as the final authority on who’s a radical group…I would first challenge that…I believe my views on immigration are correct, just, decent, and right.”
Senator Blumenthal: “[T]he people of the United States might be forgiven for concluding that the kinds of attitudes and the zealousness, or lack of it, that you bring to enforcement of anti-discrimination laws might be reflected in your acceptance of awards from these organizations, your association with these kinds of individuals, so I’m giving you the opportunity to completely repudiate and return these awards.”
Senator Sessions: “I don’t feel like it’s right to judge me and require that I give back an award … it wouldn’t be proper for you to insist that I’m somehow disqualified from Attorney General because I accepted an award.”