SCRANTON — The scenes inside and outside of Lackawanna College’s Angeli Hall on Friday couldn’t have been more different during a visit by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Inside the hall, local law enforcement and cadets graduating from the school’s police academy respectfully listened to their distinguished visitor.
“I’m proud of what you’re doing,” Sessions said to the cadets.
“It’s an honor for me to be with you.”
Outside, sign-toting protesters chanted: “Sessions, Sessions, you can’t hide, we can see your racist side.”
The Attorney General’s local stop comes in the midst of a controversial crackdown at the border by the Department of Homeland Security.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families at the U.S. border over a recent six-week period, according to the Associated Press.
It’s the result of a “zero tolerance” policy announced by Sessions in early April, which has Homeland Security referring all cases of illegal border crossing for prosecution, the AP says.
When parents are detained at the border, authorities take their children to a separate area because U.S. policy prohibits them from being housed together since the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
The practice has drawn outrage from immigration advocates and others, but Sessions has defended it.
In Scranton, he talked about local officers’ role in immigration, specifically how they should support federal ICE officers. He also offered a general defense of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I respect those officers,” Sessions said.
“ICE officers get criticized for simply enforcing the law.”
‘Made by immigrants’
Hal Donahue, of Scranton, said he heard about the protest against Sessions’ visit on social media.
“What America is doing is ruining our reputation,” he said.
The retired military member said he has attended several area protests. He believes it’s important to send a message: “Enough.”
“This is not who we are,” said Donahue.
Jonathan Wilson, 33, of Scranton, held a sign that read: “Scranton made by immigrants.”
Wilson felt it was important to come out and support families trying to make a better life for themselves in the United States.
“It’s important to represent American values of inclusiveness and diversity,” he said.
Sessions, meanwhile, said the goal is to “restore the rule of law in our immigration system.”
“It’s not so much an individual case of an individual person as much as it is restoring the integrity of the entire process,” he said.
Sessions added that individuals entering the country illegally make the job of local law enforcement harder and increasingly less safe. He commented on the number of people in the country illegally in the country and the state.
“There’s an estimated 11 million in the country today. That’s the size of the state of Georgia. Pennsylvania alone has more than 180,000 illegal aliens,” said Sessions.
“And the problem is growing. From 2009 to 2014, 50,000 aliens moved to Pennsylvania.”
Sessions also criticized Philadelphia for being a sanctuary city and called those who have criticized the administration’s handling of immigration “radicals.”
“We’re not against immigration,” Sessions stressed. “We have to have limits. There’s nothing mean-spirited about it.”
Reach Brigid Edmunds-Lawrence at 570-991-6113 or on Twitter @brigidedmunds