Politics & Policy

On Immigration, It’s Time to Defend Americans

(Obama: Getty Images)
On this July Fourth, we should focus on their needs.

The chaos unfolding at the border demonstrates the catastrophic, real-world consequences of the president’s lawless conduct. For the last five years, with average household incomes falling and Americans being pushed out of the workforce, the president has been engaged in a sustained campaign to strip away Americans’ immigration protections. He has accomplished his aims: Interior removals have been cut by more than 40 percent. President Obama’s own former ICE director reported to the Los Angeles Times that “if you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero.”

There is no doubt that the president’s lawlessness has now produced a humanitarian crisis. But more important — and much too little discussed — is the crisis he has produced for the American citizens and communities who are left with the tab. Washington has profoundly failed in its lawful duty to the American people.

We owe our first obligation to the citizens of this country, and yet the last year has been consumed by an immigration debate centered on the needs of immigration lobbyists and politicians. The ultimate expression of this failure of priorities was the Senate’s immigration bill. During a time of low wages, high unemployment, and surging welfare rolls, the Senate bill doubled the existing and expansive rate of legal immigrant and guest-worker admissions into the U.S.

The U.S. already has the world’s most generous immigration policy. The size of the country’s foreign-born population has quadrupled since 1970.  Harvard professor George Borjas estimated that high immigration rates from 1980 to 2000 resulted in a 7.4 percent wage reduction for lower-skilled American workers. And from the years 2000 through 2013, according to a Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. lawfully issued another 26 million visas to foreign workers and new permanent immigrants.  The Center for Immigration Studies issued a study based on Census data showing that “since 2000 all of the net gain in the number of working-age (16 to 65) people holding a job has gone to immigrants.”

Meanwhile, further demonstrating that there is a large surplus of labor, incomes and wages are down. The Wall Street Journal reports that “median household income was $50,017 in 2012, below 2007’s peak level of $55,627, after adjusting for inflation, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.” At the same time, the number of Americans between the ages of 16 and 65 who are not working has grown to 58 million. If mass immigration is so good for the economy, why then — during this long sustained period of record immigration into the U.S. — are incomes falling and a record number of Americans not working?

On this July Fourth, it is time to focus squarely on the needs of the American people who have given their blood and sweat to deliver us this magnificent Republic.

For instance:

‐Stop promoting amnesty. Instead, send a clear message to the world: If you attempt to come here unlawfully, you will be sent home. And send a message to our neighbors in Latin America: If you do not accept repatriation of your citizens who entered unlawfully, you will not be provided any more legal-immigrant visas.

‐Protect the workplace. Protect the jobs and wages of lawful residents. This can be done by expanding, as previously planned, the effective and easy-to-use workplace verification tool known as E-Verify, used to confirm a job applicant’s legal status. Senate Democrats have blocked this measure.

‐Remove the tax-credit magnet. According to the IRS inspector general, in 2010 the U.S. improperly paid out $4.2 billion in taxpayer money to illegal immigrants in the form of the additional child tax credits — often to support children who are not even living in the United States. We can end this practice by simply requiring a valid Social Security number, as the IRS inspector general has recommended. Senate Democrats have blocked this measure, too.

‐Help our unemployed get back to work. With a record 58 million working-age Americans not working, we need to get our people off unemployment, off welfare, and into good-paying jobs that can support a family. Doubling the already large and continuing flow of legal immigration, as the Senate bill proposed, clearly works against this goal.

‐Create the conditions for rising wages. It is the job of lawmakers to represent all citizens, not just the denizens of Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and certainly not the narrow financial interests of international corporations with facilities spread across the globe. As long as we provide employers with an ever-increasing supply of low-wage workers from abroad, American wages are not going to rise. If a job is tough, or difficult, or in high demand, why shouldn’t wages go up?

‐Challenge the president’s lawlessness. The president made clear with his Monday announcement on executive actions that he plans to go even further in not enforcing America’s immigration laws. Congress simply has no choice but to use its substantial constitutional powers to confront the president’s lawlessness. And if the Senate Democratic majority continues to empower this illegality, then they should be exposed publicly and held to account for doing so. To violate even further his constitutional requirement to enforce the law – regardless of what other measures are taken – will ensure that the border crisis continues.

The immigration vision of President Obama and his congressional allies provides benefits for various CEOs, amnesty activists, and the citizens of other countries — but it offers nothing for American citizens besides lower wages and higher unemployment.

After decades of open immigration and lawless borders, it has become clear that it is time for a new immigration focus: one centered on the just and legitimate interests of the American people.

The Americans who bravely fight our wars, dutifully pay their taxes, and live their whole lives by the rules have every right to expect and demand that their representatives act faithfully on their behalf. Let that be our resolve on this July Fourth.

— Jeff Sessions is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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