Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice


As President Trump’s first attorney general, Sessions issued the “zero tolerance” directive that created the family separation policy — a deliberately cruel measure intended to deter potential migrants.

Vilifying Immigrants and Separating Families

  • Sessions’ office at DOJ was the “driving force” behind the development and implementation of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which led to the separation of thousands of children from their families at the southern border. The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General found that Sessions was aware that the policy would lead to family separations, and still pushed it through without proper management or planning. Because of these planning failures, hundreds of children remained separated from their families years after the Trump administration’s policy was officially ended, [Politico, 01/14/21, New York Times, 10/21/20]
  • Sessions issued a ruling making it “all but impossible for asylum seekers to gain entry into the United States by citing fears of domestic abuse or gang violence.” [New York Times, 06/11/18]
  • Sessions threatened to withhold federal public safety funding from sanctuary cities. [DOJ, 07/25/17]

Defending White Supremacy

  • Sessions defended President Trump’s initial response to the Charlottesville violence on a series of television appearances the week after the event, saying people were making “too much out of” Trump not explicitly condemning white supremacists. [Washington Post, 8/14/17]

Anti-Democratic Efforts

  • Sessions’ Justice Department switched sides on a number of important voting-rights cases, including changing the department’s position to defend large-scale purges of voter rolls. [Slate, 08/08/17]

News Coverage and Headlines

  • “’We need to take away children,’ Mr. Sessions told [federal] prosecutors, according to participants’’ notes. One added in shorthand: ‘If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.” [New York Times, 10/06/20]
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday used a Bible verse to defend his department’s policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border from Mexico, suggesting that God supports the government in separating immigrant parents from their children. ‘I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,’ Sessions said during a speech to law enforcement officers in Fort Wayne, Ind.” [Washington Post, 06/15/18]
  • “We found that Department leadership and, in particular, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which had primary responsibility for the policy’s development, failed to effectively prepare for, or manage, the implementation of the zero policy. Sessions and a small number of other DOJ officials understood that DHS would change its policy in response to the zero tolerance policy and begin referring to DOJ for criminal prosecution adults who entered the country illegally with children and that prosecution of these family unit adults would result in children being separated from them, at least temporarily. The [Office of Inspector General] found that the OAG advocated for this DHS policy change and therefor was a driving force in the DHS decision to begin referring family unit adults for prosecution.” [DOJ OIG, 01/21]
  • “[B]ehind the scenes…Sessions is the true architect of much of what people believe to be Trump’s domestic-policy agenda. As implemented in recent decisions to curtail asylum grants, ramp up immigration enforcement, and dial back criminal-justice reform and voting-rights protections, this agenda is more than just the reversal of policies enacted during the Barack Obama era, which Trump promised during his campaign. Rather, from the Black Belt in Alabama in the 1980s to the farthest reaches of the border fence today, the Sessions Doctrine is the endgame of a long legal tradition of undermining minority civil rights.” [The Atlantic, 06/18/18]