US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, has been grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee after laying out a sharply conservative vision about illegal immigration and serious crimes.
On Tuesday, Sessions was the first among key Trump cabinet nominees to face his Republican and Democratic peers for confirmation hearing.
While testifying, the senator from Alabama pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and favored to keep open the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, distancing himself from some of the Trump campaign pledges including a registry of Muslims.
Sessions claimed that the US has every right to deport people who enter the country illegally and commit serious crimes but the system is failing due to a lack of cooperation between the Department of Homeland Security and local authorities.
“You’ve got the sanctuary cities that refuse to tell Homeland Security that they’ve got somebody that’s committed a serious crime so they can be deported,” he said. “On the other side, we’ve got [the] Homeland Security having standards or failing to follow up on serious offenses of people who should be deported.”
“This country has every right to deport persons who are here unlawfully — who violate our criminal laws,” Sessions noted.
Speaking about establishing a registry for Muslims in the US, Sessions said, “It would raise serious Constitutional problems because the Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to free exercise of religion.”
Meanwhile, some protesters, dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes, temporarily disrupted the Senate confirmation hearing for Sessions, chanting slogans against the nominee and calling him a racist.
Sessions has been in the midst of controversy over his civil rights record since he was named to become the nation’s top law enforcement official.
During the hearing, however, he rejected racially charged comments he allegedly made towards African-Americans in 1980s.
In November, Trump’s transition team announced that the business mogul had nominated Sessions.
Sessions is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and formerly served as the US attorney as well as the attorney general in the state of Alabama.
Sessions’ hard-line and at times inflammatory statements on immigration are similar to those of Trump’s. He has already expressed opposition to any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.