PLAYER PROFILE

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. Senator from Alabama | Former U.S. Attorney General under President Trump | Republican 2020 Candidate for U.S. Senator from Alabama

President Trump may have fired Jeff Sessions as his attorney general in 2018, but these two giants of the Republican Party remain inextricably linked in 2020 as Trump runs for reelection and Sessions runs to get back his U.S. Senate seat from Alabama.

The firing of Sessions as United States attorney general resulted from his disagreement with Trump on the role that Sessions should have played in the Russia investigation. Sessions recused himself because of his involvement in Trump’s 2016 campaign, while the president believes his AG should have prevented the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Nevertheless, Sessions’s influence on Trump’s immigration policy remains, as the one-time AG was instrumental in the administration’s rescinding of DACA, reduction of asylum grantees, family separation policy, and expansion of ICE.

In many ways, Sessions’s 45 years in the public eye — as a federal prosecutor, Alabama attorney general, U.S. senator, and U.S. attorney general — has been defined by his deep skepticism of not just illegal immigration but immigration altogether. On several occasions he has stated that the country should admit far fewer immigrants and only those who serve “the national interests,” generally qualifying this in economic terms. While many Republicans talk in terms of “good” immigrants and “bad” immigrants, Sessions has taken a more narrow view, emphasizing that the burden of proof ought to be on immigrants to convince the courts that they deserve to stay in the U.S. “The American people have known for more than 30 years that our immigration system is broken,” he said in a speech on January 26, 2018. “It’s intentionally designed to be blind to merit. It doesn’t favor education or skills. It just favors anybody who has a relative in America — and not necessarily a close relative. That defies common sense. Employers don’t roll dice when deciding who they want to hire . . . A merit-based system would better serve our national interest because it would benefit the American people, which is what the Trump agenda is all about . . . That kind of system would be great for our economy, of course.”

As senator from Alabama (1997–2017), Sessions often found himself leading a faction of his own party — often a small one — against bipartisan immigration reform efforts endorsed, or at least tolerated, by Republican leadership. In 2013, during the Senate’s most recent comprehensive immigration reform fight, Sessions took a lonely stand against the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee — and then led the bill’s opponents on the Senate floor when then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to steer his caucus one way or the other on the bill.

Sessions’s views on immigration have always been in alignment with President Trump’s, particularly when it comes to his belief that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than the native-born population. He has often presented this belief with anecdotal narratives only, as there is a lack of clear statistical data to support the assertion.

Sessions called for a border wall long before President Trump made it the hallmark of his 2016 campaign, and he became one of the earliest high-profile supporters of Trump’s White House run. And though Sessions was unceremoniously dismissed from the Trump administration, Stephen Miller, his longtime communications director during his time in the Senate, remains one of Trump’s closest advisers on all matters pertaining to immigration policy.

SOURCES:

Sessions’S IDEAS

  • Border Security

    Sessions has long been a strong supporter of tighter border security, often making it the prerequisite for any other immigration policy reform.

  • Border Wall

    Sessions has been a proponent of building a barrier along the southern border throughout his political career.

  • Detention

    Sessions implemented President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy for separating parents from children at the border and detaining everyone who was caught crossing illegally.

  • Immigration Courts

    As attorney general, Sessions issued new mandates to immigration judges, including a requirement to process at least 700 cases a year and have less than 15 percent of their cases overturned by the appeals process. Sessions’s memo to the judges stated that those who fail to meet the new quotas would be deemed unsatisfactory or “needing improvement” and could face discipline. On eight occasions, Sessions referred asylum cases to himself, establishing legal precedent with his rulings.

  • Undocumented Population

    Sessions does not support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented persons. He has also criticized prioritizing family relations in granting permanent residency.

  • ICE

    Sessions supported an increase in agent hiring, and during his tenure as attorney general arrests of unauthorized immigrants by ICE agents rose 41 percent.

  • DACA

    Sessions has been a critic of the DACA program from its beginning. He recommended that President Trump rescind the program and he announced its end in September 2017.

  • Asylum

    As attorney general, Sessions issued more restrictive guidance for granting asylum to those who apply for it. Under his stewardship, the Department of Justice dramatically reduced the number of applicants who were granted asylum.

  • Central America Policy

    Sessions directed immigration judges to no longer consider gang violence in the Northern Triangle as an acceptable reason to grant asylum in the U.S. He supported President Trump’s freeze on aid to the most violent countries in the region.

  • Visas

    Sessions has said he is open to expanding the worker visa program but only in the wake of dramatic increases in border security.