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Jeff Sessions is gone, but there’s no cause to rejoice as Trump nominates William Barr to replace him


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Jeff Sessions is gone, but there’s no cause to rejoice as Trump nominates William Barr to replace him

  • ‘Things have changed’: A new Texas anti-immigration measure feeds fear of the police

  • NYPD officers wrestle a woman’s baby out of her arms so they can arrest her on trespassing charges

  • How do New Jersey counties still partner with ICE?

  • Colorado judge rules that honoring ICE detainers is unconstitutional

In the Spotlight

Jeff Sessions is gone, but there’s no cause to rejoice as Trump nominates William Barr to replace him

President Trump’s decision to nominate William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general has evoked condemnation from criminal justice, immigration, and civil rights and civil liberties advocates. “It’s hard to imagine an attorney general as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one,” according to Michael Collins of the Drug Policy Alliance. [Daniel Bush / PBS NewsHour]

Barr served in George H.W. Bush’s administration as deputy attorney general from 1990 to 1991 and attorney general from 1991 to 1993. He earned a reputation as a conservative hardliner on criminal justice and immigration issues, which still appears to be well-deserved. David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, wrote that, “Barr has, like Sessions, supported aggressive anti-immigrant policies, opposed criminal justice reform, lauded intrusive surveillance of Americans, said Roe v. Wade should be overturned … supported denying civil rights protections to transgender individuals, [and] defended the Muslim ban, Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and attacks on immigrant rights and free speech.” [David Cole / ACLU]

German Lopez of Vox looked at Barr’s record and the reactions to his nomination. Congress passed the 1990 Crime Bill during Barr’s time in the Department of Justice and he was an ardent supporter. It was while Barr was attorney general that the Department of Justice issued a report called “The Case for More Incarceration.” The report distills an early-1990s “tough on crime” belief in the efficacy of incarceration in reducing crime and a disdain for non-incarceratory approaches to public safety that has only slowly been disavowed by policymakers, and still commands fealty from the Jeff Sessionses and Tom Cottons of the world. Barr’s note at the beginning of the book proclaims: “[T]here is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets. Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.” [German Lopez / Vox]

Also in Vox, Dara Lind writes that Barr “was a Republican immigration hawk back before it was popular” who “knows how to run the kind of immigration policy Trump likes: one that cracks down first and asks questions later.” He supported the earliest, most sweeping version of Trump’s travel ban in 2017. [Dara Lind / Vox] His tenure as AG came shortly after Congress passed the 1990 Immigration Act, easing the deportation of immigrants with certain criminal convictions. Barr exploited this authority to make deporting people with a criminal record a DOJ priority. Speaking at a town hall in 1992, he said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We will not tolerate aliens who come here to prey on the American people.” [Daniel Bush / PBS NewsHour]

While AG, Barr vastly increased funds expended for border security, ramped up efforts against so-called “criminal aliens involved in street gangs,” blamed lax immigration enforcement for the unrest following police beating of Rodney King, and pushed for such initiatives as immigration agents at foreign airports and summary deportation proceedings. In a move that foreshadowed Trump’s call to refuse asylum seekers’ entry at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bush administration—with Barr’s vocal support—initiated a policy to have the Coast Guard intercept all people fleeing by boat from Haiti, including asylum seekers, and immediately return them to Haiti. (The policy was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration on the grounds that the U.S.’s obligation under the principle of non-refoulement—to not return people to countries where they risk persecution— did not apply in international waters.) [Dara Lind / Vox] Barr also ordered the detention at Guantánamo Bay of Haitian people with HIV seeking asylum in the U.S. [Daniel Bush / PBS NewsHour]

Nor does Barr seem to have misgivings about the policies for which he was responsible. Barr’s “thinking hasn’t changed significantly since [his tenure as AG and subsequent efforts to vastly increase incarceration in Virginia], even as the failure of mass incarceration has become too glaring to ignore,” says Tim Lau of the Brennan Center for Justice. Barr was a vocal critic of the bipartisan Sentencing Reform in Corrections Act in 2015, and may very well oppose the current bipartisan First Step Act that President Trump and a majority of Republican Senators support. [Tim Lau / Brennan Center for Justice]

Though Barr appears likely to be confirmed, Cole of the ACLU urges that “the Senate, who must confirm Barr, and the U.S. citizenry, who will have to live under him as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, should be aware of the full range of threats he poses to constitutional law, civil rights, and civil liberties.” [David Cole / ACLU]

Stories From The Appeal

 

El Paso Police Facebook Page

‘Things Have Changed’: A New Texas Anti-Immigration Measure Feeds Fear of the Police. Senate Bill 4 encourages officers to ask for the status of anyone they detain. [Debbie Nathan]

Stories From Around the Country

NYPD officers wrestle a woman’s baby out of her arms so they can arrest her on trespassing charges: Jazmine Headley was in a crowded benefits office in Brooklyn on Friday, waiting in the part of the office that helps parents get childcare. Because there were no chairs available, she was sitting on the floor with her 1-year-old in her arms for two hours, according to the New York Times. Security approached Headley and after a verbal exchange called 911. NYPD officers arrived shortly thereafter and what followed was captured on video by others in the office. The officers surrounded Headley and yanked her baby out of her arms. Headley tried to hold on to her child, yelling, “They’re hurting my son! They’re hurting my son!” After pulling the baby away, an officer waved a stun gun at the group of onlookers. Headley was arrested on misdemeanor charges and jailed at Rikers Island, where she remains. The officers’ actions were met with outrage and calls for disciplinary action. In a statement, public advocate and Attorney General-elect Letitia James said: “Being poor is not a crime. No mother should have to experience the trauma and humiliation we all witnessed in this video.” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also called for an explanation of the officers’ actions, saying on Twitter, “I’d like to understand what transpired and how these officers or the NYPD justifies this. It’s hard to watch this video.” [Ashley Southall / New York Times]

How do New Jersey counties still partner with ICE? New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal limited local cooperation with ICE last month, for instance preventing local law enforcement forces from assisting ICE operations. But the directive also sidesteps or postpones decisions about some of the state’s most formalized partnerships with ICE. The Appeal: Political Report takes a look at New Jersey’s landscape since Grewal’s directive: 1. The directive does not end existing 287(g) contracts, the program that gives local officers the authority to research people’s status and notify ICE, but it does require the attorney general’s authorization to renew them. This could come to a head in 2019, when 287(g) contracts expire in three counties (Cape May, Monmouth, and Salem). 2. It lists circumstances in which counties can still disclose information about individuals to ICE and extend their detention. 3. It does not address three large counties’ contracts to detain individuals for ICE in exchange for lucrative payments (Bergen, Essex, and Hudson). Advocates denounced as hypocritical local officials’ claims of wanting to help ICE detainees given conditions in local jails. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

Colorado judge rules that honoring ICE detainers is unconstitutional: A district court judge in El Paso, Colorado, has ruled that holding people on ICE detainers for 48 hours when they would otherwise be released from a local jail “ is not authorized by either Colorado or federal law.” The ruling on Thursday came in response to an ACLU class action lawsuit that began when two people were denied release and held for months under an ICE detainer despite attempting to post bond. The judge found that continuing to detain because of an ICE request violated individuals’ rights to due process and bail. El Paso was one of only two counties in Colorado that were still honoring ICE detainers; the rest had stopped honoring them in part after a 2014 lawsuit settlement in favor of a domestic violence survivor who had been held in jail under a detainer request. Teller, the other county honoring ICE detainers, is the subject of another pending case, in which the judge has preliminarily ruled in favor of the sheriff’s department’s practice. The  Teller County trial is scheduled for June 2019. [Chris Walker / Westword]

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