A vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee on William Barr’s nomination as attorney general was delayed until Thursday, amid Democratic concerns about the independence of the Mueller investigation. Due to the Republican majority in the Senate, the postponement is not expected to derail Barr’s confirmation.
That’s a shame, because Barr is bad news for Latinos.
As George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, Barr took extreme positions on civil rights and mass incarceration, and he gave little indication at his confirmation hearings that he has evolved significantly since then. His views on immigration, criminal justice, and voting rights will likely translate into policies that harm Hispanics.
On immigration, Barr has been a consistent hardliner. At his congressional hearing, he backed Trump’s plan for a border wall and claimed with no evidence that “sanctuary cities” are driving illegal immigration. Last year, Barr co-authored a Washington Post op-ed praising the policies of his predecessor Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE, which included family separations and asylum restrictions. In 2017, Barr wrote a Post column supporting Trump’s first Muslim Ban, the version which was later blocked by multiple courts across the country.
Barr’s harsh views go way back; in a 1992 interview, he linked the Los Angeles riots to a lack of immigration enforcement. His ideas are particularly disturbing because the attorney general oversees the immigration court system, giving Barr enormous power over both legal and undocumented immigrants.
At his hearing, Barr was asked whether he believed that birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment; birthright citizenship is the principle that all those born on U.S. soil are American citizens. Barr would only say that he hadn’t looked at the issue. His answer was implausible and troubling — especially since President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE has called for an end to birthright citizenship.
At his Senate hearing, Barr seemed reluctant to acknowledge racial bias in the criminal justice system, saying “…there’s no doubt there are places where there’s racism still in the system. But I said overall, I thought, that as a system, it’s working.” This comment ignores an overwhelming body of evidence that our system disproportionately punishes Latinos and other people of color.
Then again, it’s in keeping with Barr’s past actions and statements. Asked by the Los Angeles Times in 1992 about disparities in the treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, Barr said that “our system is fair and does not treat people differently.” That same year, he signed off on a memo, “The Case for More Incarceration,” which argued that the U.S. should imprison more people.
And while many Latinos report racial profiling and allegations of abuse by law enforcement, Barr said at his hearing that he agrees with a Sessions policy that makes it harder for the Justice Department to investigate systemic police misconduct.
With regard to voting rights, Barr’s endorsement of Sessions’ tenure is problematic. Sessions’ Justice Department supported Ohio’s purge of voter rolls and a controversial Texas Voter ID law. Yet Barr did not appear too concerned about voter suppression efforts at his hearing, saying “Voter turnout shouldn’t be artificially driven up without also addressing the issue of an informed citizenry.” Such a lack of commitment to protecting the right to vote is unacceptable. Consider that a 2018 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that Hispanic and black respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced barriers to voting as white respondents.
Of course, some Latinos, like former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, support Barr. In January, Gonzales signed a letter in support of Barr’s confirmation, noting his prior experience as attorney general from 1991 to 1993. But while the country has changed a lot since then, it is far from clear that Barr has. No wonder that leading Latino advocacy groups, like the Hispanic Federation, UnidosUS, and Latino Justice PRLDEF have joined with over 70 other organizations in opposition to Barr’s nomination. Among myriad other issues, these groups are concerned that that he would continue the Justice Department’s defense of adding a citizenship question to the Census, a move that could depress Latino response rates.
After two years of Jeff Sessions enabling President Trump’s xenophobic and often legally questionable policies, Hispanics deserve an attorney general who will protect the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans. Unfortunately, William Barr has not established that his Justice Department will run with impartiality, integrity, and independence. Latinos should oppose Barr’s nomination.
Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.