Attorney general nominee on immigration: Americans ‘spoke clearly’ in electing Trump

Trump pick Jeff Sessions defends record during confirmation hearing

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, testified on Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination for attorney general in the Donald Trump administration. "I can be trusted to do what I say I will do," Sessions said. Protesters shouted him
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Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, testified on Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination for attorney general in the Donald Trump administration. "I can be trusted to do what I say I will do," Sessions said. Protesters shouted him

Denisse Rojas, whose parents brought her from Mexico to Fremont, California, when she was 10 months old, left Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing to be attorney general on Tuesday still seeking answers about whether she is going to be deported under Donald Trump.

“There is really no safety net for us,” said Rojas, who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and is now in medical school. “Hearing his responses gives me no reassurance.”

Given Trump’s campaign pledge of mass deportations of people in the country illegally, what Sessions would do about immigration as the nation’s attorney general was a major topic on the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And he left little doubt of where he stood. “I believe the American people spoke clearly in this election, I believe they agreed with my basic view.” 

The Department of Homeland Security handles deportations but as attorney general Sessions would have power over immigration courts and criminal prosecutions against immigrants, and could use federal justice grants to pressure local law enforcement agencies to cooperate in federal efforts.

Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, has long opposed bills that would provide a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally as part of broader bipartisan efforts on an immigration policy overhaul. He’s called legislation to give a chance at citizenship to people who entered the country illegally as children “a reckless proposal for mass amnesty.”

“There is not a spot of evidence in your public career to suggest that as attorney general you would use the authority of that office to resolve the challenges of our broken immigration system in a fair and humane manner,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Sessions. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Sessions disputed the characterization. He said that, as attorney general, he would follow the laws passed by Congress, but also made clear his own stance.

“If you continually go through a cycle of amnesty, you undermine the respect for law and encourage more illegal immigration,” Sessions said.

He said his view is 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 they’re not accepted they don’t get in.”

Sessions said he would have no objection to Trump reversing President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order protecting from deportation immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. Sessions called the directive “very questionable in my opinion constitutionally.”

Rojas, who came to California as an infant, is among the so-called “Dreamers” who have been protected from deportation through Obama’s order.

“There is a lot of fear,” she said.

Sessions was vague when pressed by senators on what should happen to the 740,000 “Dreamers” who are protected under Obama’s executive order.

Sessions suggested that’s a matter for lawmakers and that as attorney general he would follow the law.

He said Congress and the Trump administration should “end the illegality and put us in a position where we can wrestle with how to handle these difficult, compassionate decisions.”

Sessions added that it’s not financially possible to deport everyone who is in the country illegally and that Trump’s priority is deporting people with criminal records.

Durbin said Session didn’t answer his question about what would happen to the Dreamers who “would be left in the lurch, whose lives would be ruined.”

“Dreamers” who came to the U.S. illegally as children are feeling particularly vulnerable to deportation under Trump because they stepped forward to identify themselves in exchange for a promise from the Obama administration that they wouldn’t face deportation and could apply for work permits.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, wrote in a Tuesday op-ed that “my office has received more than 33,000 calls and emails from Californians afraid of how minorities, including Dreamers and undocumented immigrants, will be treated under a Trump administration.”

Many Republicans in the Senate agree with Sessions on immigration and other issues, however, and his confirmation as attorney general is virtually assured.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, pointed to Session’s support from law enforcement groups and said “it’s hard to imagine why anyone would be against you.”

Sean Cockerham: 202-383-6016, @seancockerham