As the country reels from the longest government shutdown in history, we are facing a national emergency declaration and a deal rife with so-called “border security” measures that only serve to further militarize our borders. It’s the latest episode in the long-running “crisis” that President Trump has manufactured to criminalize and attack migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Now Trump will gain another powerful ally to support his extremist vision with the Senate confirmation of William Barr as attorney general. While the Republicans have positioned Barr as a seasoned former attorney general and the Democrats are focused on whether he will interfere in the Mueller investigation, it is Barr’s prior experience that reveals what kind of attorney general we should expect when it comes to the president’s views on immigration.
Throughout Barr’s career, he has consistently promoted anti-immigrant and racist policies that overwhelmingly criminalize people of color. As attorney general under George H. W. Bush, Barr tried to take away due process rights for all immigrants with criminal convictions by proposing unconstitutional “summary deportation proceedings” and justified sending 12,000 Haitian refugees to prison at Guantánamo Bay simply because some were HIV positive.
But Barr’s extremist world views didn’t stop in the 1990s. In 2018, he wrote in The Washington Post applauding Jeff Sessions’s work at the Department of Justice (DOJ), which included the implementation of the “zero-tolerance” policy and attempted prosecution and imprisonment of all migrants (including those with children) arrested after crossing the border. Barr saluted the expansion of Operation Streamline, a program that establishes an altogether separate and unequal court, devoid of due process and equal protection, designed to facilitate the mass prosecution and imprisonment of immigrants for crossing the border — an act that equates legally to a misdemeanor traffic violation. Across the southern border, the U.S. government packs people into freezing cells, deprives them of food and water, and forces them to sleep on the floor for days. They then parade dozens of immigrants, shackled at their hands and ankles, through assembly line hearings that one former San Diego judge referred to as a “fast food process that sullies centuries of judicial tradition.”
The impacts of the human rights crisis that Sessions created are still being felt: Children have been severely traumatized, and despite the executive order Trump was pressured to sign, many children continue to be separated from their families, in far higher numbers than originally reported. Just this past month, a 17-month-old baby named Juliet was reunited with her mother after having been taken from her father when he was arrested to be prosecuted by the DOJ — a fact that was hidden from the court processing him.
As head of the DOJ, it will be Barr’s responsibility to advise the president against illegal and inhumane policies like family separation and enforce orders to ensure due process rights, like bail, are not systematically undermined to migrants through Operation Streamline. But based on his own words and actions, we can safely assume he won’t be opposing President Trump’s extremist agenda on immigration.
While we all may feel worn down by this president day after day, we can’t afford to become complacent to the ongoing horrors of this administration — especially now that it is clear that Barr will continue Jeff Sessions’s war against immigrants at the DOJ.