Jeff Sessions Hopes You’ve Forgotten What His “Zero Tolerance” Policy Actually Did

Former US Attorney General Jeff SessionsJay Reeves/AP

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In a new ad for his Alabama Senate campaign released last week, Jeff Sessions brags about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy he oversaw as attorney general. The ad touts the policy as proof of Sessions’ ability to “take action” on immigration and includes clips of the May 2018 speech in which he rolled out the policy. It conveniently leaves out the part where Sessions explains that “zero tolerance” meant family separation—that is, separating the children of migrants from their families.

Here’s the spot:

In the campaign video, we hear Sessions drawling, “I have put in place a ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” and, “If you cross the border unlawfully, we will prosecute you.” But the clip does not include what Sessions said a moment later in his speech: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law.”

In practice, this policy led to the separation of more than 2,700 migrant families at the US southern border, contributing to the massive number of migrant children—nearly 70,000 in all, in 2019—being held in detention centers. As Mother Jones has reported since the crisis began in 2018, many were held in deplorable conditions without access to basic necessities or medical care. Six migrant children have died in federal custody since 2018.

But Sessions is counting on Alabama voters to think less about children in cages and more about how he “secured” the southern border to deliver him a win in the Republican primary on March 3. If he makes it past a crowded primary field—which includes the protagonist in this racist campaign ad—Sessions will look to reclaim his old Senate seat from Sen. Doug Jones. Jones, a Democrat, won the 2017 special election to replace Sessions when Sessions left for the AG role. So far, Sessions’ strategy in this campaign has been to cozy up to a president who doesn’t exactly love him back. The immigration ad is another way for Sessions to highlight his work with Trump, the man who said making Sessions his AG was the “biggest mistake” of his presidency. Trump has not endorsed Sessions for the seat. 

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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