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Matthew Stokes: An honest look at Sessions’ immigration actions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made headlines this week with a speech on one of his favorite subjects –  immigration enforcement.

Given before a group of law enforcement officers in Scottsdale, Arizona, it was a more complicated address than it may seem at first glance.  Critics have pilloried Sessions for declaring that parents and children crossing the border illegally will be separated upon entry. This is indeed a harsh policy to carry out, though the speech itself merits a closer look by concerned citizens.

While Sessions has drawn fire for his positions on immigration while serving as Attorney General under President Donald Trump, it should be noted that Sessions’ position on the matter is well-established.  Indeed, his early endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries was seen as an alliance between two politicians with a shared concern over the nation’s immigration policies. A more cynical reading might suggest that while Trump was merely parroting populist ideas in order to win election, Session was, and remains, a true believer working to firm up the nation’s immigration laws – regardless of what transpires in the White House.

In giving a speech that presented several new initiatives to combat illegal immigration, Sessions has been accused of laying out a policy of separating families.  Critics hone in on one line in particular: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.  If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”   

While this could refer to either nuclear or extended families, there are other, more troubling possibilities. One possibility could potentially cut down on the number of children smuggled into the the country each year.  

According to a 2017 report by CNN, large numbers of people are smuggled across the border every year, and the majority of those smugglers represent the interest of drug cartels or other organized crime syndicates south of the border. While many of these cases deserve our sympathy, it is safe to assume that most smugglers and traffickers are not moving children across the border out of pure goodness.   

Even if smugglers are trafficking kids and delivering them to extended families for a fee, this sort of illicit activity usually tracks closely with other crimes such as gun smuggling, drug trafficking and human trafficking for purposes of labor or sexual exploitation. By shutting down this avenue, the Department of Justice looks to cut off one arm of the cartel organizations that wreak havoc in Latin America and extend their enterprises into our own borders.

On the other hand, if Sessions’ critics are correct, and the Attorney General is serious about separating children from their parents, this policy would pose a bigger problem.  While the United States cannot roll out the welcome mat to any and all comers, this sort of action is unnecessarily cruel and out of keeping with our national character.

To be quite frank, I don’t believe that we as a nation have the stomach for this sort of thing.  Make no mistake – I am an immigration restrictionist who favors tough enforcement at the workplace and an end to chain migration. Nevertheless the separation of children from their blood relations is a step too far, and our leaders should find other means of addressing this problem.  That said, while Sessions could have been more direct in his remarks, and further clarity is required as to the implementation of this policy, I simply do not find the breakup of families to be the intention of the policy.

Some commentators have noted Sessions’ reference to the southwest border, suggesting the reference is a dog whistle for brown-skinned people.  This is silly and unfair. It is silly because the southwest border does deal with a large level of illegal immigration, and, yes, those immigrants come from Latin American countries and often have complexions different than those of many Americans.  

Reasonable opponents of immigration must admit that some voices on their side too often veer towards racism, and we should fight against these attitudes. Yet it is unfair to suggest racism at the root of any law enforcement with regards to illegal immigration.  This sort of rhetoric paralyzes any honest debate on the matter, which ultimately revolves around the question of how a nation is to police its own borders.

Sessions’ opponents are vocal, passionate, and articulate.  Yet shouting down his speeches and suggesting racism as the root of his position is unhelpful. Indeed, one can take great issue with our nation’s laws and work tirelessly to see them changed.  Still it is absurd on the merits to complain when the nation’s chief law enforcement officer takes steps to enforce those laws. He is, quite simply, doing his job.

Our country deserves an honest debate on both our immigration laws and the nature of their enforcement.  The self-loathing and sarcasm of Sessions’ detractors do nothing to further that debate.

Next steps for caravan will unfold mostly out of public view

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