Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions Skirts Questions on Immigration at Confirmation Hearing
Express News Global
Published: January 13, 2017
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, dodged several questions on immigration during a Senate Judiciary committee hearing Jan. 10, the first step in his confirmation process.
Of particular concern to Indian Americans is the H-1B program, which provides temporary work authorization to highly-skilled foreign workers, primarily from the U.S. Sessions has stated his support for disbanding the program, which currently allows more than 100,000 Indians to work in the U.S.
“If you bring in a larger flow of labor than we have jobs for, it does impact adversely the wage prospects and the job prospects of American citizens,” stated Sessions during the six-hour confirmation hearing, which did not specifically touch on the H-1B issue.
“I think as a nation we should evaluate immigration on whether or not it serves and advances the national interests, not the corporate interests. It has to be the people’s interests first,” he said, adding: “Too often Congress has been complacent in supporting legislation that make businesses happy but also pull wages down.”
The Alabama senator’s nomination has been opposed by more than 130 civil rights organizations, including the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and other Asian American organizations.
Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee gave Sessions a lashing at the Jan. 10 hearing, which was interrupted several times with shouts from protestors, who were then escorted out of the hearing room. Several protestors wore Ku Klux Klan robes to underscore the nominee’s alleged support of the racist organization. Sessions has denied supporting the KKK.
“I am very troubled by his stance against civil rights,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California who is a ranking member of the committee.
Feinstein opined that Sessions had previously supported a ban on Muslims entering the country, based on their religion. She also noted that Sessions voted against three bi-partisan comprehensive immigration reform bills in 2006, 2007, and 2013, and that he opposed the DREAM Act – a landmark bill that allows undocumented youth relief from deportation – calling it “a reckless proposal for amnesty.”
“There are deep concerns and anxieties throughout America. There is a deep fear about what a Trump administration will bring in many places. Ultimately, we must determine whether Senator Sessions can be the Attorney General for all of our people,” stated Feinstein, noting that the nominee has been opposed by 1,400 law professors.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also slammed Sessions for his opposition to comprehensive immigration reform and for lacking a plan to address the 800,000 “Dreamer” youth currently living in the U.S.
“When I asked what you would do to address the almost 800,000 Dreamers who would be subject to deportation if President Obama’s order was repealed, you said: ‘I believe in following the law. There’s too much focus on people who are here illegally and not enough on the law.’”
“Senator Sessions, there’s not a spot of evidence in your public career to subject that as Attorney General, you would use the authority of that office to resolve the challenges of our broken system in a fair and humane manner. Tell me I’m wrong,” challenged Durbin during the contentious hearing.
“Well you are wrong, Senator Durbin,” parried Sessions. “I’m going to follow the laws passed by Congress.”
“If you continually go through a cycle of amnesty, then you undermine the respect for the law and encourage more illegal immigration into America,” stated the nominee, adding: “I believe the American people spoke clearly in this election. That we create a lawful system of immigration that allows people to apply to this country and if they’re accepted, they get in.”
“If not, they don’t get in, and I believe that’s right and just, and the American people are right to ask for it,” stated Sessions, adding: “We have not delivered that for them.”
“As you know, we’re not able financially or any other way to seek out and remove everyone in the country illegally. President Trump has indicated that criminal aliens are the top group of people,” said Sessions.
“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 ask the American people and enter into a dialogue about how to compassionately treat people who have been here a long time,” he said.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, asked the nominee whether he supported Trump’s stance on denying entry to the U.S. to members of certain religions.
Sessions noted that the president-elect has clarified his remarks, stating that greater vetting should be accorded to immigrants from countries with a history of terrorism. He went on to state that though he would not ban Muslims solely because of their religion, greater scrutiny should be accorded to those who have religious views that could impact the public safety of the U.S.
Pressed further on the issue by Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawai’i, Sessions defined those deserving extra scrutiny, re-stating his support for extra vetting for immigrants from purportedly terrorist countries, and people “who could be clearly violent criminals.”
“If their interpretation of their religious views encompasses dangerous doctrines and terrorist attacks, I think they should certainly deserve more careful scrutiny than someone whose religious views are less problematic,” said Sessions.