Sen. Al Franken tells moving story about addressing Somali, Muslim students in Minnesota


During Tuesday's confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Democratic Sen. Al Franken gave a passionate defense of the Muslim American community. 

Franken criticized Sessions' endorsement of President-elect Donald Trump's bigoted statements about Muslims, refugees and immigrants. Franken, who represents a state with a large population of Somali immigrants and refugees, told Sessions how upset he was when Trump scapegoated the Muslim population

Franken also revealed how a middle-school teacher begged him to come to her school and speak with Somali and Muslim students concerned about their futures under Trump's presidency.

"These kids did not know what to make of a country, their country, electing a leader who describes them and their families as worthy of hatred and suspicion," Franken said. "So I did my best to alleviate their fears that day. I told them you're Americans. ... Don't be afraid."

Alex Brandon/AP

At a November 2016 rally in Minneapolis, Trump falsely warned supporters about the state's infiltration of Somali refugees and their proclivities to join ISIS.

"Here in Minnesota, you've seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge, without your support or approval, and with some of them then joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world," Trump said.

Franken also told Sessions the acts of terrorism in Paris and Belgium are not a reflection of Islam or the Muslim community; rather, they're representative of rising anti-Muslim sentiments and Europe's reluctance to help Muslim immigrants integrate into society. The senator said that perpetuating Islamophobic rhetoric makes it harder for Muslims, immigrants and refugees to assimilate into the United States.

Matt Rourke/AP

"Senator, part of what makes that assimilation challenging is when people seeking to lead this country exploit fear and anxiety and redirect that fear toward our immigrant and refugee communities," Franken said.

The Minnesota senator closed with a story about attending the 2015 high-school graduation of his Senate page's sister, who lives in the Somali community in Willmar, Minnesota. During the ceremony, Franken's page told him her sister won homecoming queen that year.

"[The senate page] told me her younger sister was the Willmar homecoming queen," Franken said. "In Europe, they don't assimilate people. Here in the United States, we vote them homecoming queen."

You can watch Franken's moving remarks here.