Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Jeff Sessions’ anti-immigrant obsession

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington on Tuesday.
Associated Press/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington on Tuesday.

President Trump publicly humiliated Jeff Sessions and clearly wanted him out as attorney general. But never underestimate the will to retain power.

Sessions has used a nationwide tour to push his pet obsession — and perhaps crawl back into Trump’s good graces — by dishonestly suggesting a link between immigrants and the latest national crime statistics, which show an uptick in violent crime.

According to the FBI’s 2016 crime statistics, released this week, murder and non-negligent manslaughter offenses increased 8.6 percent when compared with estimates from 2015. Aggravated assault increased 5.1 percent over the previous year, and rape offenses increased 4.9 percent. This is the second year in a row showing a spike nationally. It could be a blip, or a more troubling trend. Experts say it’s too soon to tell, and they warn against using the numbers to score political points. Yet in recent speeches to local law enforcement officials, Sessions has done just that, by drawing a connection between immigrants and crime.

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In Portland, Ore., Sessions “chided Portland and other sanctuary cities, saying they’ve become a ‘trafficker’s, a smuggler’s or gang member’s best friend,’ ” The Oregonian reported. Arguing such cities “believe they are above the law,” he connected sanctuary policies to increases in crime and gang violence: “Think about that: Police may be forced to release pedophiles, rapists, murderers, and drug dealers back into communities where they had no right to be in the first place.”

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In Boston, Sessions highlighted the danger of some legitimately bad hombres — members of transnational gangs, such as MS-13, whose leaders are based in El Salvador. He also warned that many unaccompanied minors who enter the country across the southern border are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who are recruited by gangs. The Department of Justice, he said, is working with other federal agencies to reexamine the program that allows their entrance into the country.

“Securing our border, both through a physical wall and with the brave men and women of the border patrol and restoring an orderly and lawful system of immigration is part and parcel of this anti-gang strategy,” Sessions said during recent remarks at the John Joseph Moakley federal courthouse. With that he segued to a preview of the latest FBI’s crime statistics, which “tragically will show violent crime rose again.” He warned, “We cannot accept this as the new normal.”

In response, experts stress that violent crime remains at historically low levels. In Massachusetts, the overall rate of violent crime fell 3.3 percent. Some believe the overall national increase in violent crime can be tied directly to certain cities. No one has linked it statistically to immigrants. One recent report, issued by The Sentencing Project, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C., found that immigrants, regardless of legal status, commit crime at lower rates than native-born Americans; and higher levels of immigration in recent decades have coincided with a historic drop in crime rates.

What Sessions has been doing on his road show is wrong and intellectually dishonest. Not that he has any problem with intellectual dishonesty.

In a speech this week at Georgetown Law School, he denounced the silencing of conservative voices on college campuses and called for “a national recommitment to free speech.” That’s fine — until Trump’s own efforts to squelch free speech are considered. From his attacks on news organizations to those on football players who take a knee during the national anthem, Trump is a declared enemy of the First Amendment, not its champion. But Sessions had no problem condemning the “heckler’s veto” while ignoring the starring role played by the heckler in chief.

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Has Sessions no shame? No, he doesn’t. He will embrace hypocrisy and politicize crime — whatever it takes to hold onto power and advance his anti-immigrant agenda.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.