Jeff Sessions Wants to Single-Handedly Crush Immigration Reform

PHOTO: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) (R) speaks while Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) listens, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform on April 22, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

If you've been paying attention to the immigration debate in Congress, then you've probably noticed Jeff Sessions.

It would be hard to find a more persistent and vocal foe of the bipartisan Senate immigration bill than the Alabama Republican. But so far, Sessions has appeared to be more of a lone wolf rather than a man who's on the cusp of rallying a large coalition to stymie the plan.

Sessions offered 15 amendments to the bill last month, the most of which would have gutted its core proposals. (Only one of Sessions' minor amendments was adopted without being changed). Several times a day his office also circulated materials from law enforcement groups like the ICE union and conservative pundits like Michelle Malkin and Erick Erickson blasting the plan. Sessions himself railed (and railed, and railed...) against the proposal during committee hearings, claiming it would hurt American workers and violate the rule of law.

Once the bill moves to the Senate floor in the next two weeks, Sessions will certainly amplify his efforts to defeat it, and key anti-immigration reform foes are betting on him winning the debate.

"While many people oppose things like this, there aren't many people who take the lead," said Roy Beck, executive director of the anti-immigration group NumbersUSA, which works closely with Sessions. "He is the chief spokesman … his success will be killing the bill on the floor."

But so far, Sessions has not been able to slow down or scuttle the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal on a bipartisan 13-5 vote.

If his continued effort does manage to do some serious damage, Sessions would repeat the success he had in 2007 when he helped lead a conservative revolt against a similar immigration reform bill.

But that's going to be much harder for a slew of reasons. Broadly, in the past year, the politics of immigration has shifted favorably towards those who support it. So much so that even pro-reform Republicans have proven to be more organized in defending the proposal both on and off Capitol Hill than they were six years ago.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants to reduce immigration levels, believes the bill can still be defeated, but acknowledges that his side is facing a more formidable opposition.

"[Sessions is] doing it in the face of a much better prepared and lavishly-funded pro-amnesty coalition," he said.

Beyond a better game plan by pro-reform groups, the anti-reform coalition in the Senate also suffered a major loss when Jim DeMint decamped to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation last December. Yes, freshmen like Ted Cruz have stepped in and veterans like Chuck Grassley are still around. But pro-immigration leaders say it will be tough for Sessions to fill DeMint's shoes.

"When DeMint announced that he was leaving the Senate, we were very happy, because he's actually a more formidable [and] savvy politician than Jeff Sessions," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice. "We're blessed by the fact that [Sessions] is the leading opponent because he doesn't bring a lot of gravitas or allies with him."

So, given how daunting the task, why is Sessions so passionate about defeating immigration reform even as his own party's leadership is warming to it?

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