Speech hit on key Trump administration talking points, drew protest
Hewing to the Trump administration’s key talking points about fortifying the border, dismantling international crime rings and banning sanctuary cities, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers in Houston Friday he had their backs and urged the public to support what he called “common sense” measures to reduce gang violence.
“This should be obvious: if we want to reduce violent crime we should reduce illegal immigrant crime,” Sessions said. “If you’re not prepared to lock up dangerous criminals to protect the public, you’re not fulfilling your responsibility.”
Sessions said the Justice Department as part of a hiring increase is adding more than a dozen new prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas, which includes a major seaport and a bustling international border.
The attorney general declined to take any questions about a federal judge threatening to cite him for contempt for attempting to separate immigrant families seeking asylum, concerns about his “zero tolerance” policy or the chilling effect that anti-sanctuary-city legislation may have on witnesses coming forward to report crime in their neighborhoods.
Erica Grieder at HoustonChronicle.com: Children are paying price for Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on immigration
Also at HoustonChronicle.com: Sessions needs to learn how to count crimes (Editorial)
U.S. Rep. John Culberson did not occupy a seat set aside for him, but Sessions lauded the Republican’s support in Congress for such measures and celebrated the the work of Rep. Lamar Smith, a fellow GOP congressman. Also absent was U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick, who was on vacation.
Local U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur, whose daughter Sarah Isgur Flores runs Sessions’ press office, watched from the front row.
A couple dozen protesters representing Fiel, Black Lives Matter Houston, Refuse Fascism and other local groups assembled outside the Wells Fargo tower on Louisiana Street chanting “Immigrants are welcome here” and rallying against a proposed detention center in Houston for unaccompanied minors.
AT THE BORDER: Sessions orders ‘zero tolerance’ policy to prosecute migrants
In his remarks, the attorney general drew a connection between unlawful entries and rising crime.
Sessions said large numbers of MS-13 gang members endanger cities like Houston, Los Angeles and New York, leading to brutal homicides in which undocumented immigrants have been implicated. He cited as examples the 99-year sentence this week for an MS-13 member in the homicide death of 28-year-old Hector Daniel Diaz in southwest Houston in 2015 and the slayings of a teenager in Jersey Village. He also mentioned a suspected gang member facing the death penalty on allegations he ordered from jail the death of another teen—who was a witness in his case—in a Fort Bend park.
Getting serious about crime, he said, means cutting off sanctuary cities. He cheered an appeals court for upholding SB 4, the Texas law that garnered national interest in local governments and police tackling the work of federal immigration officers. Sessions also denounced protesters and politicians who speak ill of federal agents at Homeland Security and ICE.
Among the small crowd outside the event protesting was Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Fiel. Espinosa said Sessions is scapegoating immigrants despite studies that show undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a lesser rate than people born in the U.S. He also said the attorney general is peddling a double narrative about MS-13.
“He spoke about how dangerous MS-13 is today, but a couple of weeks ago he talked about how people fleeing from MS-13 could not apply for asylum because it’s not a big deal,” Espinosa said. “If it’s dangerous, he should allow them to seek asylum in the United States.”