- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Attorney General nominee William P. Barr said Tuesday that the U.S. does need fencing on the border with Mexico, and delivered a fierce rebuke to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate in identifying immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, saying they entice more people to break the law.

“We need money right now for border security, including barriers and walls,” Mr. Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a first day of confirmation hearings.

He praised legal immigration — though he said the system “needs reforming” — but said the issue with illegal immigration is pressing and needs quick solutions.

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While most of Tuesday’s hearing focused on how Mr. Barr would handle the ongoing special counsel’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Justice Department’s role in overseeing immigration policy drew a number of questions from both Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Barr said people are “abusing” the asylum system by making bogus claims, then counting on lax enforcement and lengthy court proceedings to give them a chance to disappear into the shadows here in the U.S.

He said he dealt with that sort of situation on a smaller scale when he was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, and said the laws have to change.

“It’s long overdue, and the president is right that until we’re able to do going to be able to get control over illegal immigration,” he said.

Mr. Barr offered a particular critique of sanctuary cities, saying they create a “hydraulic effect,” pulling more immigrants into the U.S. illegally under the belief that they can avoid detection.

He said what sanctuaries really do is shield criminals by preventing local police and jails from sharing information about those in their custody with federal immigration officials.

“This is not chasing after families, things like that, this is going after criminals,” he said.

Democrats were dismayed by Mr. Barr’s stances.

Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the nominee’s belief that barriers will help at the border is misguided.

“Experts say more screening technology, not a wall, is what works,” Mr. Durbin tweeted.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, pressed Mr. Barr on whether he thought birthright citizenship — the automatic granting of citizenship rights to almost anyone born on U.S. soil, whether their parents are in the country legally or not — was a constitutional guarantee.

He said he hadn’t studied the matter, and would seek guidance from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.

Ms. Hirono was nonplussed.

“As a former attorney general, he hasn’t read the Constitution and the 14th Amendment? Wow,” she tweeted.

On another hot-button issue Mr. Barr vowed not to prosecute marijuana companies in states where it is legal.

“To the extent people are complying with the state laws, we are not going to go after that,” he said.

But he urged Congress to develop a unified law, saying the current situation is untenable. Federal law prohibits the sale and possession of marijuana, but some states have either legalized or decriminalized it.

He said he would not have rescinded the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that told federal prosecutors to generally avoid marijuana cases in states where it was legal

Mr. Barr also said he would “faithfully enforce” the First Step Act, a major sentencing reform signed into law last year that cuts prison time for a number of nonviolent offenders.

Mr. Barr had previously been seen as having a tough-on-crime approach during his earlier stint as attorney general, but he said violent crime rates were much higher at that time.

“I think the time was right to take stock and make changes to our penal system based on current experience, so I have no problem with the approach of reforming the sentencing structure and I will faithfully enforce that law,” he said, promising to “diligently implement” the First Step Act.

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