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Did Jeff Sessions Foreshadow New Immigration Crackdown in a Memo Before Becoming Attorney General?

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McClatchy is reporting the harsh new draft orders signed by the Department of Homeland Security were largely endorsed by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions months before he took office as attorney general. We speak to McClatchy reporter Franco Ordoñez.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Franco Ordoñez, I’d like to ask you—you have a new article that talks about how many of these policies were foreshadowed by a memo that the now sitting Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent to the Obama administration last year. Could you talk about that?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, this is a—I just talked with the White House yesterday about it, too. I got a hold of this letter that you’re referring to that Jeff Sessions wrote in July of 2016. And it basically outlines two of those most controversial points that we were talking about earlier. Jeff Sessions, in his letter, talked about the 60 percent of parents that—pardon me, the 60 percent of unaccompanied minors who come to the United States who eventually end up meeting with their parents, who are here illegally, and he specifically questioned then-Secretary Jeh Johnson and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch why they were not being, quote-unquote, according to them, “humanely” removed from the country. He also, in those letters, pointed out that their parents were subject to prosecution.

So I think what it shows is that this is not out of the mainstream thinking of the Trump administration. Not only is Jeff Sessions, as you pointed out, our current attorney general, but Stephen Miller, who was a big part of these executive orders, he was part of Jeff Sessions’ staff. So this has been part of the thinking for a while. I’ll just add, when I did talk to the administration last night, they said, “Look, these are—these policies are things that law enforcement has been asking for.” So, I think we’re going to get some clarity pretty soon on those things. But yeah, this is not—this is not necessarily, you know, ground—new stuff, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And something else that’s not new is the existence of a deportation machine, as you have said in some of your articles, haven’t you? That Trump doesn’t need to create a deportation machine, because the Obama administration already did that?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly right. I mean, we can’t forget that Obama, for many years, deported more people from the—who were in the country illegally than any other president. It was up through 2012, 2014, that he was doing this. You mentioned Luis Gutiérrez earlier getting kicked out of that meeting. I think that just shows what kind of fight is ahead. Luis Gutiérrez went after President Obama a few years ago, calling him a deporter-in-chief. So, Obama kind of set the stage in some ways. Trump has kind of taken that and taken it upon. I think a lot of us were curious whether he would do some of the—take away some of the prosecutorial discretion that he did. But Trump has definitely taken further steps, much further, in potentially going after some of the unaccompanied minors, and particularly their parents. So, I think it’s going to be very interesting.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And finally, Tim Warden-Hertz, your organization, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, what are you gearing up for now in the coming months? What kind of efforts are you going to be making in terms of immigration reform or attempts to beat back what is coming from the Trump administration?

TIM WARDEN-HERTZ: That’s right, yeah. I think there’s a lot of different pieces that we’re working on. I mean, we—you know, we are part of the litigation regarding the Muslim ban. And if there’s any new orders, we certainly would be looking at challenging those. I think, as was mentioned earlier, I think, regarding these new draft memos, I think there’s policies in there that we believe are unconstitutional and that we would also be looking to challenge.

I think, beyond that, we’re also doing a lot of push in communities. I mean, the fear that these memos and that the rhetoric coming from the administration have created in communities, both among folks who are undocumented and folks who are documented, has been immense. And, you know, I’ve been doing outreach around the state, as have many other folks in our organization, you know, and the fear is really hard to overstate. You know, I had a question the other day from a woman who was talking about her husband, who’s had a green card for 14 years. They’re from Mexico. And she said that they had planned a trip in next month to go visit family in Mexico, and she was wondering whether or not it would be safe to do so, whether or not—you know, she’s a U.S. citizen, and he has a green card—whether or not they could even leave the country and expect to be allowed back in. And, you know, I think they should be. And I think that that—you know, the fear that that creates is immense. And so, so we’re working on different levels, both representing people in immigration court, trying to—trying to help folks stop it as much as they can in each case, and also, you know, doing community education, as well as litigation, to stop it on a systemic level.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, OK, I’d like to thank both of our guests for being with us, Tim Warden-Hertz of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Franco Ordoñez of McClatchy Newspaper. Thanks for joining us.

When we come back, the legendary actor George Takei on the 75th anniversary of FDR signing Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans. Stay with us.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” featuring the drummer Clyde Stubblefield, who passed away February 18th at the age of 73. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Juan González.

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