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With Sessions, Trump gets immigration cred — and sparks more controversy

Donald Trump's selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions for the nation's top law enforcer would give the president-elect clout with supporters who cheered his pledges to crack down on illegal immigration, though it will certainly spark some controversy.

The immigration hard liner from Alabama was among the first people in Washington to throw his weight behind Trump's unlikely electoral win. He was a key Trump ally throughout the campaign and serves as a vice chairman on the executive committee of Trump's transition team.

Trump announced his selection of Sessions as his attorney general on Friday. Trump said in a statement that Sessions is "a world-class legal mind and considered a truly great Attorney General and U.S. Attorney in the state of Alabama."

Sessions has a long history as a public official, serving as a U.S. attorney in Alabama and Alabama's attorney general before nearly two decades in the Senate. But concerns about Sessions could bring more criticism to a Trump administration that's already facing heat for other key appointments.

Since Sessions' consideration for the Cabinet, new focus has gone to racially insensitive statements that surfaced when he was considered for a district judgeship in the 1980s. Thomas Figures, a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama, said Sessions once warned him to be careful about what he said to "white folks," according to NBC News.

He also testified that amid a Ku Klux Klan-related murder investigation he "used to think [the KKK] were OK" until he found out some were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed he was joking, according to NBC.


Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivers a speech during the opening of the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) delivers a speech during the opening of the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Senate Democrats, who have protested Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon, the former chairman of right-wing news site Breitbart as his senior advisor, will likely resist Sessions' nomination. But his majority GOP colleagues in the Senate still would likely confirm him.

Senate leaders greeted Trump's choice with applause or skepticism along party lines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he "strongly" supported the appointment of Sessions, whom he called "principled, forthright and hardworking."

The Senate's incoming top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said that "given some of [Sessions'] past statements and his staunch opposition to immigration reform, I am very concerned about what he would do with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and want to hear what he has to say."

If he gets confirmed, Sessions, the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, certainly gives some punch to Trump's pledges to crack down on illegal immigration. When he endorsed Trump in February ahead of Alabama's primary, he cited immigration as a key reason.

"You have asked for 30 years, and politicians have promised for 30 years, to fix illegal immigration. We have an opportunity Tuesday — it may be the last opportunity we have — for the people's voice to be heard," he said at the time.

Trump has said he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, make millions of undocumented immigrants subject to deportation and cancel President Barack Obama's executive order protecting millions from deportation. Sessions helped him draft his immigration platform.

Sessions' Senate website echoes many of the sentiments Trump has expressed during his campaign.

"Senator Sessions is committed to immigration reform that serves the national interest — not the special interests — and that curbs the unprecedented flow of immigration that is sapping the wages and job prospects of those living and working here today," the site reads.

It touts Sessions as a "leading opponent" of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" reform bill, saying it "eviscerated immigration enforcement." It also calls him a "leading opponent" of President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Sessions has also vocally opposed the pace of the Obama administration's settlement of Syrian refugees, claiming it poses risks to domestic security.