Jeff Sessions, America’s new attorney general, began his tenure as head of the Justice Department by delivering a brief speech that put to rest any doubt as to whether he would be a tempering force within President Donald Trump’s administration.
In just a few short minutes, Sessions laid out his vision for the United States’ criminal justice system, hitting three of Trump’s most conservative sweet spots: “Law and order,” terrorism, and immigration. At each point in his remarks, Sessions made clear that many of his critics’ worst fears were, in fact, entirely well founded.
“There are a lot of things we need to do,” Sessions began, before launching into an alarmist—and largely unfounded—screed about just how terrible things in the U.S. have gotten.
“We have a crime problem,” he said. “I wish the blip — I wish the rise that we are seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip. My best judgement, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous, permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk.”
In fact, while the murder rate in the United States did experience a slight uptick between 2014–2015, the overall rate is profoundly lower than 50 years ago. And, according to an FBI report published this past September, the rate of property crimes has dropped over two and a half percent from 2014 to 2015, as well.
Nevertheless, Sessions—in keeping with President Trump’s steady drumbeat of doom and gloom diagnoses for the nation—chose to use his opening moments as America’s top law enforcement officer to add to the perception that we are a nation rife with criminals.
Sessions then went on to pledge his support for President Trump’s harsh anti-terrorism measures, promising that “you can count on your Department of Justice to [respond] in an effective way.”
Sessions rounded off his remarks by addressing what a centerpiece of the Trump administration’s agenda: immigration.
“We need a lawful system of immigration,” he insisted. “One that serves the interests of the people of the United States.
“That’s not wrong, that’s not immoral, that’s not indecent,” he continued. “We admit a million people a year plus, lawfully, and we need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down wages of working Americans.”
Sessions’ emphatic assertions, however, are largely bunk.
Sanctuary cities, in which local police do not comply with federal law immigration law enforcement officials, typically see lower crime rates than their metropolitan peers. Immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit violent crimes than the general population.
And as for Sessions’ assertion that undocumented immigrants depress American wages? Well, the jury is still very much out.
Regardless of the facts, however, the cumulative effect of Sessions’ message is a simple one: The world is horrifying and dangerous, and as attorney general, I will come down hard on anything I see as a threat.
During Sessions’ swearing in ceremony, President Trump signed a trio of executive orders authorizing a sweeping series of resources and powers for law enforcement agencies across the United States.
At the same time, federal immigration officials were in the process of forcefully deporting Guadalupe “Lupita” Garcia de Rayos, a 36-year-old undocumented mother of two, who had lived peacefully in the United States since she was 14.