Statement of Esther Brimmer, DPhil, Executive Director & CEO before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the nomination of Jeff Sessions to serve as Attorney General to the United States
January 10, 2016
Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, and members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony.
On behalf of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, I appreciate the opportunity to express our strong opposition to the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General to the United States. NAFSA does not take this step lightly. As a matter of practice, NAFSA believes it is preferable to reserve judgment on cabinet level nominees until after they have had a chance to testify in the confirmation hearing process. However, in the case of Senator Sessions, his long track record provides sufficient evidence for us to determine he is not qualified to enforce laws pertaining to immigration and civil rights that are vital to NAFSA's mission.
NAFSA is the world's largest professional association dedicated to the promotion and advancement of international education and exchange. Our nearly 10,000 members believe that connecting students, scholars, educators, and citizens across borders is fundamental to building mutual understanding among nations; preparing the next generation with vital cross-cultural and global skills; and creating the conditions for a more peaceful world. Our commitment to fostering peace and security through international education relies upon leadership that embraces openness, equality, and justice. Senator Jeff Sessions' hostile positions on immigration, voting rights, and education disqualify him from leading the United States Department of Justice.
New Americans yearn to contribute to our nation as generations have done before them. Yet, Senator Sessions is among the Senate's most anti-immigrant senators. When his colleagues produced a bipartisan package, he opposed it. He has opposed nearly every immigration bill that has included a pathway to citizenship, and was instrumental in killing comprehensive immigration reform efforts in Congress. In opposing immigration proposals, including visa programs for individuals to work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, Senator Sessions has relied on flawed and out-of-context research and statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), Numbers USA, and the Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR). All three are well known anti-immigrant groups which the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as "the nativist lobby," having been founded by "a man with deep racist roots."
Despite statistics showing otherwise, Senator Sessions claims the shortage of U.S. STEM graduates is a hoax perpetrated by employers who want to bring down wages and harm American workers. He has used this unjustified theory to oppose "stapling a green card" to the diplomas of foreign students graduating with master's degrees or PhDs in STEM. We should be pleased that well-educated students want to contribute their expertise to our economy.
NAFSA works to encourage qualified students from around the globe to study in and contribute to our institutions of higher education. International students contributed $32.8 billion to our economy and supported over 400,000 jobs in the 2015-2016 academic year, in addition to providing incalculable benefits to their communities and educational institutions. Hostile immigration policies that make it harder for students to work and live here will dissuade many students, who will seek educational and work opportunities in other countries.
Bringing his anti-immigrant bias to the Department of Justice would drastically harm the rights of immigrants and undercut the values of openness and inclusivity that represent the best of U.S. policy. The attorney general has prosecutorial discretion and control over the immigration courts, which Senator Sessions could use to prosecute migrants on even minor and technical charges and speed deportation. He will also have the opportunity to hire new, anti-immigrant judges whose impact on the immigration courts could last for decades. In addition, as attorney general, Senator Sessions could expand the controversial use of private prisons to house nonviolent, non-criminal immigrants waiting for decisions on their immigration and asylum cases.
His reach could extend to thwarting policies of local jurisdictions that want to be welcoming to immigrants. He has recommended cuts to much needed federal funding to so-called "sanctuary cities," jurisdictions that refuse to do the job of federal agents to identify and turn over migrants without legal documentation. Justice Department attorneys under Sessions' direction could be required to seek injunctions against cities which do not cooperate with the administration's efforts to root out immigrants.
NAFSA also opposes Senator Sessions' nomination because of his alarming record on voting rights. We believe our democracy must be as strong and inclusive as possible to realize the promise of America. The nation is great because of the values we strive to uphold. The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy. Moreover, the United States gains respect abroad from our protection of civil rights at home. Senator Sessions' willingness to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote makes him unqualified to lead the department that enforces voting rights.
Sessions' nomination to be a district judge in 1986 was derailed in part as a result of his opposition to voting rights for disenfranchised citizens. As a U.S. attorney, he unsuccessfully prosecuted activists engaged in voter registration, claiming rampant voter fraud in an election in which only 14 ballots had been allegedly tampered with, out of 1.7 million cast. In 2013, he applauded the Supreme Court's decision to gut a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and supports voter ID on the false premise that voter fraud, as opposed to voter suppression, is a widespread problem in the United States. As Attorney General he could direct Justice Department resources away from efforts to enfranchise more citizens whose right to vote has been wrongfully denied, and instead channel Justice Department efforts towards chasing mythical cases of rampant voter fraud.
The United States has long recognized that education is a Constitutional right which supports democracy and creates an informed electorate. As Attorney General of Alabama, Jeff Sessions led the fight to overturn a ruling that found the inequitable funding of Alabama public schools resulted in unconstitutionally separate and unequal education for Alabama's children. His willingness to sacrifice the futures of minority and disabled students by refusing to support necessary improvements to lift all Alabama school children suggests that as attorney general he will fail to enforce policies or practices to remedy discrimination in our institutions of education or elsewhere.
To advance international education and exchange, NAFSA seeks to provide opportunities for all students-regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, gender identification or expression, or sexual orientation-to benefit from international education and gain the experience necessary to succeed in an interconnected world. Senator Sessions' willingness to embrace segregation of educational institutions is anathema to that goal.
The Attorney General is charged with enforcing laws that are fundamental to ensuring "equal justice for all." Senator Sessions' record on immigration, voting rights, and education indicates that if confirmed, he will champion policies that are neither just nor inclusive. In 1986, the United States Congress decided that his extremism disqualified him from serving on the federal bench. In the intervening years, nothing has changed that would indicate he is now fit to serve as the head of the federal law enforcement. We urge all Senators to oppose his confirmation.