Coretta Scott King warned us about Jeff Sessions.
If Republicans had paid attention last year, Sessions would be retired in Alabama rather than in Washington enforcing Donald Trump’s cruel immigration policies. And children would not be torn from their parents at our borders.
Do not be fooled by Trump’s purported adversarial relationship with the U.S. attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. The men are cut from the same bigoted cloth. And neither could survive without the other.
In a letter written two decades before her death, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of Sessions’ “reprehensible conduct,” and his use of intimidation and fear to get what he wants.
“I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws,” King wrote in 1986.
At the time, she was pleading with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee not to confirm him as a federal judge because of what many African-Americans perceived as attempts by the then-U.S. attorney to repress the black vote in the 1980s.
It worked then. But when the letter came up again during Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general last year, Republicans overwhelmingly voted him in.
A man who lacks compassion for his fellow American citizens certainly does not have it for immigrants who are not. Sessions has shown us time and time again that he and Trump have more in common than what might appear on the surface.
If you wonder why Trump has not made good on his tempered threats to fire Sessions or why Sessions has not chosen to resign, it is because they need each other too much. More than that, they seem to feed off each other.
Trump and Sessions look at immigrants through the same hate-shaded lens, and their contempt for anyone, even young children, who attempt to enter our country without the proper papers is equally as vile.
Even before Trump was elected, he began making a case for separating children from their parents at the border. If Americans don’t slam the door shut, he warned at a rally in Phoenix, violent criminals would pour in and terrorize our nation, while taking away jobs, educational opportunities and social services that belong to us.
“Zero tolerance for criminal aliens. Zero. Zero,” Trump shouted to loud applause. “Zero. They don’t come in here. They don’t come in here.”
As attorney general, Sessions serves as Trump’s facilitator — and his enabler.
A more decent attorney general might stand up to such nonsense and try to talk some sense into such a cold-hearted president. For Sessions, though, Trump’s dirty deeds are carried out easily. Eagerly, in fact.
His Justice Department is proficient at digging up obscure federal laws and misinterpreting them to justify Trump’s unpopular policies. Last year, he used a section in the U.S. code to support Trump’s executive order pulling federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to provide information to federal immigration authorities. The federal courts have since ruled against it.
Earlier this spring, Sessions threatened to suspend a program that offers free legal assistance to detained immigrants facing deportation, as well as a “help desk” that assists immigrants in Chicago and other cities. He backed down from that after a flood of complaints from immigration lawyers, advocates and some lawmakers.
Now, Sessions — in accordance with Trump — is blaming the policy of breaking up families at the border on a law that does not exist. The decision to place children in a separate detention facility is clearly a choice made by the administration.
In announcing the new “zero tolerance” policy in May, Sessions said the Homeland Security Department would refer “100 percent of illegal southwest border crossings” to the Justice Department for prosecution under a federal statute that prohibits illegal entry.
But there is nothing in that law that requires children to be separated from their parents. No other administration has chosen to take such drastic action.
Clearly, Sessions is not following the law. He is creating his own version of justice. That’s what people who work for Trump are expected to do.
Coretta Scott King was fearful of Sessions because she understood that history often repeats itself. Both she and her husband knew the evil that men like him were capable of inflicting on those who are powerless.
Sessions’ actions as U.S. attorney helped to create an environment in Alabama where bigotry and injustice could thrive.
What’s happening at our southwest borders is evil, pure and simple. While the buck always stops with Trump, let’s not forget his loyal army of foot soldiers who are willing to sell their souls to make him happy.
Dahleen Glanton writes for the Chicago Tribune.