High up on the tenth floor of 816 Congress Avenue, the street-level protest against U.S. Attorney general Jeff Sessions went unheard as he gave a speech on the president’s immigration agenda.
Sessions visited the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas Friday to give a speech on Trump’s new immigration policies and speak to local U.S. Attorney’s office staff and leadership.
To start his speech, Sessions thanked local enforcement officers for putting their lives on the line to protect others.
“President Trump and his Department of Justice understands your mission. He has directed us to support that mission and support you,” Sessions said. “Donald Trump ran for office as a law and order candidate. He is now governing as a law and order president.”
Sessions referenced an executive order Trump signed in February that directed the Department of Justice to develop strategies to increase the safety of law and enforcement officers and expand prosecutions of individuals who commit crimes against law enforcement.
On immigration, Sessions said the president wants to hire 1000 new Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers along with hundreds of new immigration attorneys and judges to further security of U.S. borders.
“It’s the kind of bold agenda the American people have been waiting for,” Sessions said. “We are at a point where we can fix this system… The wall sends a message to the world that we enforce our laws.”
Trump wants to implement a merit-based system for all new immigrants and reduce “incentives” that might encourage parents to send or bring their children to the country illegally, Sessions said.
Sessions also brought up the ongoing “sanctuary cities” battle making its way through courts both here in Texas and across the nation. Sessions said “sanctuary” policies undermine the rule of law, make it harder for law enforcement officers to do their job and release criminals into the streets.
“I would urge every so-called sanctuary jurisdiction to reconsider their policies...there are lives and livelihoods at stake,” Sessions said. “We will not concede a single block or single stress corner in the USA to lawlessness.”
Outside, protesters filled the small courtyard in front of the building that houses the U.S. Attorney’s office. Over an hour before Sessions spoke to local officials and the media about immigration policies, the protesters gathered and marched around holding signs saying “No place for hate in the Lone Star state” and “Jeff ‘White Supremacist’ Sessions is in ATX today.”
Daniela Rojas, a Latin-American studies junior, said she participated the protest because of Trumps’ motion to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in September. In his speech, Sessions said he supported the dismantling of DACA as a way to discourage the illegal immigration of minors.
“As a DACA student, I am really afraid of what’s to come in the next six months if Congress doesn’t do anything,” Rojas said. “I’m here to fight back, to stand up against the racist laws, the hatred that they are spreading.”
For three hours, protesters performed chants of “Jeff Sessions has got to go” and “We are the masses.” They also laid out a white Ku Klux Klan uniform and took turns stomping on it.
Glenn Scott, a protester involved with the Democratic Socialists of America Austin Chapter, said Sessions’ policies are dangerous for people of color in America.
“He stands for racism and attacks on immigrants,” Scott said. “His law is pushing the department of justice to attack immigrants and make them live in fear, and trying to create basically a police state.”
Shortly after Sessions’ speech ended at noon, protesters moved from the front of 816 Congress Avenue to the side where several cars were lined up waiting to leave. Some of the protesters also went to another side of the building to block a secondary exit in an apparent attempt to prevent Sessions from leaving.
UT alum Karen Collins said she was there to protest particularly in support of first amendment rights. Collins said she’s worried about the ability of the media to be able to report the truth under Sessions and accused him of being historically anti-press.
"Jeff Sessions does not have a very good record,” Collins said. "I'm really sorry he is our attorney general... I don't have any faith that he will respect our rights."