WASHINGTON ― In a 2006 speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, castigated a subset of Latino immigrants as useless to American society.
The speech Sessions gave, which came during the debate over immigration reform during President George W. Bush’s second term, was broad in its overview and assessment of different ethnic groups immigrating to the United States. But when he addressed those coming from the Dominican Republic specifically, the Alabama Republican was blunt, insisting that a massive chunk of that population had sham marriages to get legal status in the United States. And then he got even more blunt.
“Fundamentally, almost no one coming from the Dominican Republic to the United States is coming here because they have a provable skill that would benefit us and that would indicate their likely success in our society,” Sessions said at the time. “They come in because some other family member of a qualified relation is here as a citizen or even a green card holder. That is how they get to come. They are creating a false document to show these are relatives or their spouses and they are married when it is not so.”
A vocal early supporter of Trump, Sessions was a logical candidate for a top position in the incoming administration. But his past statements on civil rights and race ensured his nomination would be contentious. Thirty years ago, Sessions was denied confirmation for a federal judgeship after the Senate Judiciary Committee objected to racist remarks he had made calling the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and expressing sympathy for the KKK.
In 1996, Sessions won election to the U.S. Senate, where he became one of the most hardline voices on immigration. His stridency on the issue made him an outlier in his chamber but it endeared him to Trump, who also was a vocal opponent of immigration reform during his presidential campaign. On Friday, Trump announced that Sessions would be his nominee for attorney general, the highest law enforcement office in the land.
Sessions may face a turbulent road to confirmation, though many of his senatorial colleagues ― including at least one Democrat ― said on Friday that they would support his bid. The primary hold-up, to this point, has been his past statements on the KKK and his positions on the civil rights movement. But his 2006 statement on Dominicans could open up a new vulnerability, in part because it is far more recent ― coming almost two decades after his judgeship nomination was rejected by the judiciary committee.
“Mr. Sessions would benefit from a tutorial about what Dominican Americans contribute to the United States. He should start by looking at the achievements of our community in New York and in cities all across the country,” said New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat (D), who will become Congress’ first Dominican-American member when he joins the House this coming year. “If Mr. Sessions’ appointment is any indication of the direction of President-elect Trump’s administration, then every American ― regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or ethnic background ― should take a stand and say that this appointment does not reflect the values that have made America great.”
Other famous Dominican Americans include Labor Secretary Tom Perez, author Junot Díaz and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
Sessions’ office did not return a request for comment.