Jeff Sessions’s legacy on US immigration policy

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Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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The embattled US attorney general Jeff Sessions was asked to resign today. He will be replaced on an acting basis by his chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker.

The move comes just a day after the midterm elections, and raises questions about the future of Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It also raises questions about US immigration policy going forward; Sessions was extremely active in advancing and defending the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

As a US senator, Jeff Sessions was one of his party’s fiercest anti-immigration advocates, even penning a detailed manual on how to curb it. The Department of Justice has provided him a platform to implement some of those ideas.

One of his roles as attorney general is to oversee immigration courts, which unlike other courts are not part of an independent judicial power from the executive branch. He’s broadly used that authority to influence how those courts apply immigration law, including by reopening closed cases and overruling the decisions that settled them. He has done that on numerous occasions to make it more difficult for immigrants to stay in the US.

Sessions also put pressure on immigration judges to process cases more quickly, an attempt to reduce the the courts’ bulging docket that immigrant advocates said scrimped on due process.

His department has also defended Trump’s decision to end an Obama-era program known as DACA, under which immigrants who came to the US as children can legally live and work in the US, and sued jurisdictions that protect immigrants.