A day after Jeff Sessions defended the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents by citing a verse from the New Testament, the attorney general spoke about immigration and the Department of Justice’s commitment to “restoring the rule of law in our immigration system” in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
During his speech, Sessions recited from a well-rehearsed script, repeating talking points central to the administration’s worldview and subsequent policies. Sessions warned of the “tens of thousands” of undocumented workers crossing American borders, conflating immigrants with criminals. He spoke of the “shootings, stabbings, and beatings,” as well as the rapes and murders committed by MS-13, the Trump administration’s preferred monster. Sessions warned in his speech that the gang was “recruiting illegal aliens as young as 15.” Danger, it seems, lurked in every corner. He warned, too, that the “porous” Southwest border was impacting the rest of the United States, telling law enforcement in the audience that the lack of security at the border “makes your job that much harder.”
But if Sessions was keen to warn of the dangers at the border, he was also eager to say that the danger often has an innocent face—positing a clear relationship between crime and undocumented children. Though he did not address the administration’s policy of family separation directly, he warned of undocumented teens being recruited by MS-13 and spoke of dangerous drug-running teens at the Texas border. “As just one example, in April, we arrested a teen trying to enter the country carrying 14 pounds of fentanyl across the border,” Sessions said. “Fentanyl kills more Americans than any other drug” He continued: “It killed about 20,000 Americans in 2016. A fatal dose is about three milligrams—which means that the 14 pounds smuggled by that illegal alien could potentially be enough to kill millions of people,” juxtaposing, in clear terms, the “illegal alien”—foreign, if not subhuman—doing the killing and the “people” doing the dying.
In a series of swift sentences, Sessions transformed nearly all undocumented immigrants into criminals—rapists and murders who are also responsible, he implied, for the opioid crisis. Sessions’s language is by now familiar, central to the administration’s policies on immigration built on a foundation of racist rhetoric in which foreigners are coded as innately criminal, no matter their age.
Sessions went on to point fingers at “politicians and activists who think that having any border at all—any limit whatsoever—is mean-spirited, unkind, or even bigoted” for their share of this apparent crisis of criminality. Enemies were everywhere.
He conspiratorially pointed to “powerful, influential politicians” who support anti-American sanctuary policies, including Keith Ellison, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Hillary Clinton, and Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenny. Sessions only mentioned Clinton by name—the others were referred to by their titles: the mayor of Philadelphia, the current governor of Ohio (Sessions failed to mention that Kasich is also a Republican), and the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee—emphasizing that what he deemed to be radical ideologies had infiltrated American politics. Sessions implied that each is unAmerican because they either support open borders, sanctuary policies like Kenny or, in Kasich’s case, support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
“Sanctuary cities intentionally keep criminals in this country,” Sessions said. He was particularly interested in Philadelphia, which he treated as a hotbed of crime committed by undocumented workers. “Philadelphia is not giving “sanctuary” to Americans—they’re giving sanctuary to foreign criminals who are illegally in this country.”
Shortly before Sessions began his address in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump also blamed the administration’s violent immigration policies on politicians who, like those Sessions spoke of, are supposedly willing to sacrifice America’s security.
In his impromptu press conference on early Friday, following a friendly chat with Fox News, Trump blamed the administration’s family separation policy on Democrats. “I hate the children being taken away,” Trump said. “The Democrats have to change the law, that’s their law,” he added. (It is not a Democratic-backed law.) When pressed by a reporter, he insisted that Congress didn’t have the votes to change the policy. “We need ten votes. We can’t get it through because of the Democrats,” he insisted, adding that the policy couldn’t be changed through executive policy, though this is precisely how it came to be policy in the first place. “The children can be taken care of quickly, beautifully and immediately. The Democrats forced that law upon our nation.”
“I hate it,” he added before insisting that Democrats are preventing the construction of the wall, something that Trump has insisted is a necessity for safety since his campaign. Hours later, Sessions drove home the same point, sounding the warning on open border enemies, of teens carrying drugs, and a “stampede” of immigrants at the border. The administration is chaotic in most things, but it is, with frightening consistency, disciplined in justifying its own cruelty.