Did Jeff Sessions Refer to Immigrants as ‘Filth’?

Prepared remarks by the Attorney General during an appearance in Arizona were misinterpreted online.

  • Published 12 April 2017


Attorney General Jeff Sessions described immigrants as 'filth' during a speech in Arizona.



Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ 11 April 2017 appearance in Arizona was the subject of confusion in reports about his description of drug cartels and illegal traffickers. The reports hinged on a portion taken from his prepared remarks for the speech, which he delivered to a group of Border Patrol agents near the border between the U.S. and Mexico in Nogales, Arizona:

We mean international criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into warzones, that rape and kill innocent citizens. It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.

The remark was quoted by the Wall Street Journal and subsequently circulated on social media while accusing Sessions of smearing undocumented immigrants. But the Washington Examiner noted that the transcript of Sessions’ speech provided additional context:

Here, under the Arizona sun, ranchers work the land to make an honest living, and law-abiding citizens seek to provide for their families.

But it is also here, along this border, that transnational gangs like MS-13 and international cartels flood our country with drugs and leave death and violence in their wake. And it is here that criminal aliens and the coyotes and the document-forgers seek to overthrow our system of lawful immigration.

Let’s stop here for a minute. When we talk about MS-13 and the cartels, what do we mean? We mean criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders. Depravity and violence are their calling cards, including brutal machete attacks and beheadings.

It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth.

Sessions also failed to use the word “filth” while actually delivering the speech, instead saying: “It is here, on this sliver of land, on this border, where we first take our stand.”

Washington Post contributor Daniel W. Drezner published an apology for contributing to the misreporting about Sessions’ remarks on Twitter. He wrote:

Full stop, I was wrong, and I apologize to the attorney general for making this mistake. I wish I had caught the error in time to delete the tweet before it went viral. Alas, I did not. Deleting it now seems like I’d be trying to erase my mistake. I did respond with a follow-up tweet, but that is insufficient given all the attention this received.

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