Jeff Sessions’ world view is a stark canvas of evil vs. good that allows no wiggle room, no gray area, nothing but grimness. He sees people not as people, not as humans worth protecting and families worth keeping intact, but as data points and potential criminals. He is the U.S. attorney general, an Alabamian named after Confederate heroes, and he is embarrassing this great nation.
His decision this week to alter U.S. policy for asylum eligibility stains America. We are not, and must not be, a nation that turns away immigrant women and children battered by abusive husbands and fathers, or by immigrants fleeing rampant gang violence seen in other lands. Our flag and national morals stand against such behavior. Yet, Sessions now says victims of domestic and gang abuse will not qualify for asylum under federal law.
Alabama’s longtime junior senator from Mobile, hand-picked by President Trump to lead the Department of Justice, has ranked persecutions so that America’s immigration officials will have “clarity” in their rulings, the attorney general says. In Session’s mind, all persecutions are not equal and immigration officials shouldn’t be tasked with determining which asylum applications merit consideration, though that is exactly what they should do.
Immigrants seeking asylum in the United States, Sessions’ ruling dictates, can be considered if they face persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in certain social groups. But immigrants, and especially immigrant women, afraid they will be beaten or killed by a member of their family if they return home are out of luck. America’s door is closed.
This isn’t America. This isn’t our America.
“Today’s decision by the attorney general,” Beth Werlin, executive director of the American Immigration Council, told The Washington Post, “is yet another attempt to close our doors. Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration.”
Except, that it is. The Republican Party has sat idly while the Trump administration’s xenophobic immigration policies have demonized people of color from Mexico and Central American nations, all under a supposed panacea of a walled-off southern border that’s impenetrable. The Trump Organization builds condos and hotels, the Trump administration builds walls. And, yet, there is the irony of Sessions’ immigration ruling.
The Mexico depicted in President Trump’s tirades is a lawless expanse, a hyperbolic statement rooted in that nation’s documented problems with the illegal drug trade. But the rise in Central American immigrants arriving at America’s southern border and applying for asylum is directly related to the increase in violent crime in those nations. Their persecution is real.
Sessions, meanwhile, has misplaced his soul.
“Women and children will die as a result of these policies,” Michelle Brané, director of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s migrant rights and justice program, said in a statement.
Jeff Sessions has become the face of an uncaring America that turns away the endangered, that ignores their pleas. That he’s from Alabama, that he’s one of us, is our cross to bear.