Sessions: How GOP Can Turn Immigration Debate On Its Head

by Jeff Sessions

The White House and their congressional allies believe that the Senate immigration bill can be used as a political cudgel against House Republicans.

They are wrong. If Republicans do the right thing, they will not only turn the immigration debate on its head but will begin the essential drive to regain the trust of working Americans.

We already know that the public repudiates the Gang of Eight’s amnesty-first model by a 4–1 margin. Less discussed is the public’s broad opposition to the large increases in low-skill immigration — and its impact on jobs and wages — that lies at the heart of the Senate proposal.

In their zeal to rush this 1,200-page train wreck through the Senate with as many votes as possible, Democrat leadership whipped every single member of their conference. After over four years of the Obama presidency, wages have continued their painful decline. But the same Democrat senators who attacked President Bush for declining wages have suddenly fallen silent.

And so, with unanimous Democrat support, the Senate adopted a bill that adds four times more guest workers than the rejected 2007 plan at a time when 4.3 million more Americans are out of work and 20 million more Americans are on food stamps. The proposal also grants immediate work authorization to those here illegally while dramatically boosting permanent levels of annual legal immigration in the future. Based on Congressional Budget Office data, the bill would grant permanent residency to 46 million mostly lower-skill immigrants by 2033.

The result? CBO says wages would fall for the next dozen years, unemployment would rise, and per-capita GNP would be lower for the next quarter century.

Strikingly, wages are lower today than in 1999. Median household income has declined 8 percent. One in seven recent college graduates is unemployed. One in three Americans without a high-school diploma can’t find work. The Senate immigration bill — written by the White House, Democrat leadership and supported by the entire Democrat conference — sacrifices the economic interests of these Americans in deference to the politicians and business interest who want lower-cost labor.

If there is any lesson for the GOP to learn from 2012, it’s that we must do a better job fighting for and connecting with working Americans of all backgrounds — immigrant and native-born alike — whose wages have fallen and whose employment opportunities have increasingly diminished.

In pushing for this bill, the Left has abandoned and taken for granted the struggling worker. By doing the right thing on immigration, the GOP can distance our party from the corporate titans who believe the immigration policy for our entire country should be modeled to pad their bottom line.

Consider this story relayed in a recent New York Times article:

Since John Vretis was let go by an electronics company in November, he has made it through the first and second cut of applicants at several companies near his home in Moline, Ill. But Mr. Vretis has yet to receive an offer. He recently interviewed at a metals company that is adding 25 workers a month, but was told it had 4,000 applicants for those positions. ‘I’m 55 and I know that’s an issue,’ said Mr. Vretis, who holds an associate’s degree in accounting.

With all due respect to Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Rove, and the Chamber of Commerce, there is not a shortage of workers in America. There is a shortage of jobs.

The failed 1986 amnesty has been much and rightly discussed throughout the current immigration debate. But there is an even more poignant lesson to be drawn from the Reagan years: One thing that made President Reagan such an exceptional leader was the clarity and courage with which he gave a fresh voice to the economic concerns and needs of his time.

The GOP is presented with such a moment now. The White House has made its central legislative priority a bill that would result in decades of stagnant wages, stubborn unemployment, and increasing poverty. Instead of joining in that destructive effort, the GOP should reject it and demand reforms that encourage self-sufficiency and promote rising wages.

Both as a matter of economic policy and social policy, the best course for America is one that helps more of our residents move off of welfare, off of unemployment, and into good-paying jobs. We can’t simply ignore the large number of chronically underemployed Americans. Immigration policy should promote — not inhibit — individual opportunity and community confidence.

The Senate immigration bill is Obamacare’s 1,200-page legislative cousin. It is a disaster on every level. Republicans should make no effort to salvage it or to offer even the slightest hope of revival. Instead, we should draw sharp and bold contrasts that earn the loyalty of our faithful supporters and the newfound respect of the millions of working Americans who have turned away.

— Jeff Sessions represents Alabama in the United States Senate.