Asian Americans Must Join the Fight to #StopSessions (and #StopBannon)

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Senator Jeff Sessions

Earlier this morning, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he has chosen Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to fill the role of US Attorney General under the upcoming Trump administration.

This selection is tantamount to a declaration of war against people of colour and immigrants, including against Asians and Asian Americans. The Asian American community must rally to stop the confirmation of Senator Sessions as our next head the Department of Justice.

The New York Times notes in their report of this morning’s announcement that Senator Sessions is a “well liked” in the Senate. Yet, Senator Sessions’ record on civil rights and immigration demands closer scrutiny.

Sessions has been the subject of criticism for his regressive views on race in America. In 1986, Sessions — a former prosecutor and Alabama attorney general — was nominated for the federal judiciary by President Ronald Reagan, only to lose a confirmation vote based on inflammatory remarks he made about Blacks. In testimony, witnesses recounted how Sessions had disparaged civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, how he had once referred to federal prosecutor Thomas M. Figures (who is Black) as “boy”, and how he had joked that the Ku Klux Klan was fine by Sessions “until [he] found out they smoked pot.”

After failing to be confirmed as a federal judge, Sessions ran for — and one — a senatorial seat from Alabama. As Senator, Sessions has voted against funding for minority-owned businesses, against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, against protecting LGBT individuals from hate crimes and other forms of discrimination, and against affirmative action. He has voted for declaring English the official language of the United States.

Sessions’ chief issue, however, has been his virulent opposition to immigration — both documented and undocumented. In addition to Sessions’ staunch opposition to undocumented immigration, Sessions has lead a charge to reduce or eliminate visa programs that encourage legal immigration of highly skilled STEM workers. Last year, Sessions declared that the H-1B visa program — which grants temporary work authorization for immigrants trained in highly-specialized science & technology fields — were a “tremendous threat” to American professionals.

In 2014, Sessions said before Congress, “we need to create jobs for Americans first before we bring in foreign workers to take those jobs.” He then advocated that Congress commit to scaling down the H visa program — including both H1-B and H2-B visas — as a means of slowing or halting legal immigration into the United States altogether.

Nearly half of temporary work authorization visas issued by the United States are issued to workers from Asia. When Jeff Sessions draws a line between ‘real’ Americans and foreigners who are arriving to take their jobs, the line he draws is highly racialized.

Sessions’ position against high-skilled documented immigrants echo that of Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart News and chief strategist to Trump. In a 2015 interview between Bannon and Trump for Bannon’s radio show, Bannon implies that he strongly opposes the influx of Asian workers employed by Silicon Valley, suggesting that changes to worker visas should be made to protect America as a “civic society”.

With Sessions’selection as attorney general, the Trump administration has offered a concrete signal that they will be no friend to the immigrant community. They will oppose immigration — both documented and undocumented — on the grounds that immigrants (and specifically, immigrants of colour, given that Sessions appears to have no qualms regarding immigrants from Europe) are a threat to America’s ‘way of life’.

If Sessions is confirmed as this country’s next attorney general, this could have a profound impact on the lives of immigrants. Sessions would lead efforts to prosecute corporations, universities, and city officials for offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. His office would be responsible for defending the United States should they pass draconian laws to deport documented or undocumented immigrants from this country. He would be the prosecutor charged with building a legal case around the reasoning described yesterday by Trump supporter Carl Higbie that immigrants are not protected by the US Constitution, and that Japanese American incarceration offers ‘legal precedent’ for a national registry of Muslims.

He would be responsible for the department that oversees American civil rights.

An organic, nationwide campaign (#StopBannon) has emerged in recent days to stop the confirmation of alt-right racist Steve Bannon to the role of Trump administration’s chief strategist. Nearly 300,000 Americans have signed a petition demanding that Congress halt Bannon’s confirmation, and more than one-third of Congressional representatives have signed a joint letter opposing Bannon’s appointment. The letter’s signatories include Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) members Reps. Mike Honda, Judy Chu, Ami Bera, Tammy Duckworth, and Mark Takano among others. 18MillionRising has launched a phonebank campaign to encourage AAPIs to make additional calls to their elected officials to #StopBannon.

Jeff Sessions has built a political career around the kind of dogwhistled racism, nativism and xenophobia that would see America close its doors to immigrants of colour. As Attorney General, Sessions would be in a position to legitimize such immigration policies. We cannot allow this to pass. We must stop the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General.

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