By Geneva Sands and Matt Seyler, ABC News
Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked this week’s terror attack in New York City to criticize United States immigration policy at a Baltimore press conference Tuesday.
“As yesterday’s New York events showed, in the starkest terms, the failures of our immigration system are also a national security issue,” Sessions said. Sessions said that chain migration, the process of immigrants helping their family members immigrate, and the diversity visa lottery were responsible for terrorists entering the U.S.
“How did it happen?” Sessions said regarding Monday’s attack. “An individual won the lottery in Bangladesh. He came here. He then, through the chain migration process, brought his sister, and she brought her son, 20 years old, and he’s the one who attempted to blow up the subway in New York.”
Sessions was speaking at a press conference focused on efforts to combat MS-13 gang violence and the administration’s immigration priorities alongside the newly sworn-in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. This was her second public event since her swearing in last week.“This terrorist was clearly planning to kill Americans. That was his intent. He showed up to do just that and through variety of circumstances, we were lucky that no lives were taken, although three people were injured,” said Nielsen.
She said that DHS was not aware of any additional specific, credible threats, but that the department was taking additional security precautions and assessing possible security enhancements as a result of the attack.
Nielsen also said that the administration was planning to reform the overall immigration system in part to secure the homeland, calling current policies “misguided.” She said that as a result of President Donald Trump’s “outspoken” concern that more be done to keep the country safe, the administration is “putting in place new measures to keep terrorists from entering our country.”
Those measures include intensifying vetting of U.S.-bound travelers, securing the border, reforming immigration policy and placing travel restrictions on high-risk countries, according to Nielsen.
“[T]he administration is planning to modify our immigration system to end misguided and outdated visa systems such as the extended family chain migration and the diversity visa lottery,” she said.
Instead, Nielsen said that the U.S. should focus on a “merit-based system,” similar to those of Canada and Australia, that would better support the U.S. economy and assimilation to the country.
Sessions also linked illegal immigration to the rise of MS-13 violence.
The attorney general said that transnational gangs like MS-13 have “taken advantage of our porous southern border and previously lax immigration law enforcement” in prepared remarks.
He said that he ordered DOJ prosecutors to renew their focus on immigration offenses — specifically when criminals have a gang and cartel affiliation, or violent crime offenses. The press conference was on the same day that Alabama held its special election for its open senate seat, which was left vacant by Sessions when he joined the Trump administration. ABC News projected Democrat Doug Jones as the winner late Tuesday.
In November, Sessions said that he had “no reason to doubt” Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s accusers.
“Well, I answered the question as I knew it at the time,” he said Tuesday when asked if he stood by the statement.
Moore faces allegations from eight women who have accused him of sexual misconduct toward them when he was in his 30s and, in some cases, the women were in their teens.
He has denied the allegations.
Sessions said that he voted as an absentee, but did not reveal for whom.
“I value the sanctity of the ballot,” he said, adding that the people of Alabama will “make the right decision, I’m sure.”