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Civil Rights Groups Slam Sheriff Ahern for Endorsing Sessions as Attorney General

Sessions Opposed Voting Rights Act While Supporting Anti-Immigration Policies

By: Tulio Ospina – 24 March – Link to Oakland Post article

Local immigrant and civil rights groups are expressing outrage after learning that Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahernsigned a letter last year endorsing the highly controversial nomination of Jeff Sessions for US Attorney General.

During the nomination process in December and January, leaders across the country were alarmed by President Donald Trump’s selection to lead the Department of Justice.

As a US Senator, Sessions opposed the Voting Rights Act and has a history of making racist comments, including reportedly saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “okay until I found out they smoked pot.”

In a 1986 letter opposing Sessions’ federal judgeship application, Coretta Scott King wrote, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly Black voters.”

“The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods,” the letter continues.

“I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

Sessions was not confirmed for the federal position over concerns about his history of racist comments.

Last year, several local leaders also spoke out against Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General due to his strict advocacy of anti-immigration policies and his opposition to legislation that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, whose district consists of Alameda County, condemned his confirmation, calling it “outrageous and appalling” and an indication that Trump will “lead a relentless assault against (civil rights) progress.”

While leaders and community members across the country denounced Sessions’ nomination, Sheriff Ahern co-signed the endorsement letter that was sent on behalf of the California State Sheriff’s Association (CSSA).

Ahern is a chairman of the organization’s Political Action Committee.

“It is clear from your service in the U.S. Senate that you place a high priority on upholding the rule of law, supporting our nation’s military and law enforcement, and requiring the utmost integrity of yourself and those that serve with you,” the letter from the CSSA states.

After the letter surfaced earlier this week, a coalition of local immigrant rights groups demanded that Ahern apologize for his endorsement and make necessary changes to his department’s policies to play no part in Trump’s agenda.

Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights (ACUDIR), which includes Causa Justa: Just Cause, ACCE and Mujeres Unidas y Activas, wrote, “Sheriff Ahern and the Sheriffs Association are, simply put, on the wrong side of history. They must … completely separate themselves from Trump’s cruel deportation machine – and his hateful ideology.”

ACUDIR also slammed the department’s opposition of the California Values Act (SB 54), a proposed bill that would limit state and local law enforcement’s compliance with federal immigration agents.

In an interview with the East Bay Express, Ahern said he did not personally sign the letter but that his signature was electronically added as it is routinely to all of the association’s letters, although he did vote to send the letter of support.

“We have to work with these people in the future. This builds a better relationship if we have a letter of support on file,” said Ahern.

Ahern told the Express that if the association disagrees with Sessions, the group would push back.

“If we opposed any type of actions or anything like that, we do author those types of letters too, and say we object to what’s going on,” he said.



Women Journey to Mexico to Put Focus on Immigration During Pope Visit

FEB 17 2016, 9:24 AM ET

For Guillermina Castellanos, the Pope’s message on compassion for immigrants is personal. Though she and her nine children are U.S. citizens, the California resident said her husband has been living in the U.S. for about 20 years and has not been able to legalize his status. Every time her daughters see a police officer drive up behind them, they’re afraid that their father will get pulled over and get arrested for being undocumented.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t be afraid. The cop won’t do anything to your dad,'” Castellanos said. “But they still live with that constant fear.”

The Pope’s trip to the city of Juárez, Mexico on Wednesday is drawing hundreds of thousands of faithful on both sides of the border. But as the eyes of the world descend on the Pontiff’s visit to the area, some U.S. families like Castellanos say they want to ensure that people focus on the Pope’s message of compassion and dignity for immigrants.

As part of the pilgrimage, the women crossed the border to Juarez through the Paso del Norte International Bridge. Photo credit: Steve Pavey/Hope in Focus

Castellanos was one of 150 women from across the country who took part in a pilgrimage across the border to call attention to immigrants’ lives. The women met in El Paso Tuesday morning and crossed the border to Juárez through the Paso del Norte International Bridge. Once in Mexico, they met with women from Juárez and prayed together inside a cathedral that is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The women from both countries prayed together for those who have died trying to cross the border and for those who had crossed into the U.S. but have since been deported and separated from their families.

As they made their way across the border, the women stopped to tie ribbons with names of immigrants on barbed wire fences. Photo credit: Steve Pavey/Hope in Focus

While some of the faithful have journeyed to Juárez to stay until the Pope’s visit, the group of women returned to El Paso, a few steps away from the border, where they will be when Pope Francis celebrates mass. In this border city the group went to a federal courthouse to observe how immigrants are prosecuted and, in many cases, ordered deported through a program called Operation Streamline. They concluded the pilgrimage with a closing mass and dinner at the Sacred Heart Church in El Paso.

“Our message to immigrants is that they’re not alone,” Castellanos said. “We are fighting for them every day.”

As they made their way across the border, the women stopped to tie ribbons with names of immigrants on barbed wire fences. Steve Pavey/Hope in Focus

Many of the pilgrimage participants were also part of a group of women who in September set out on a 100-mile pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. They arrived at the nation’s capital just before Pope Francis addressed a joint meeting of Congress and met with President Obama.

“Last September, we asked the pope to be a voice for immigrants,” said Juana Flores, a former nun who participated in both pilgrimages. “He did that, but we saw that it didn’t produce results. We still see deportations and raids happening in our communities.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken about the plight of immigrants and refugees. During his visit to the U.S. in September, Pope Francis urged compassion for immigrants during a speech to Congress. He delivered a similar message during his six-day trip to Mexico that will conclude after he celebrates mass in Juárez, not far from the border.

Flores and the other women who participated in Tuesday’s pilgrimage are hopeful that through his trip to the border, the pope will call attention to the plight of migrants trying to cross the border in pursuit of a better life in the U.S. as well as how current policies are affecting the lives of undocumented immigrants and their families.

“This is a pope who hasn’t been afraid of speaking out about immigration, and we are very thankful for that,” said Flores, who is co-director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas in San Francisco. “I have a lot of faith that his words will lead to big changes.”