Have you ever wondered why roofing crews seem to be comprised entirely of non-English-speaking immigrants while U.S. welfare rolls bulge, unemployment among young African-American men rages, the labor force participation rate for men aged 25 to 54 is at an all-time low? U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama apparently has.
Sessions recently released an Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority. Click here to read it.
In it, Sessions says, “The principal economic dilemma of our time is the very large number of people who either are not working at all, or not earning a wage great enough to be financially independent.” He's right.
To support his statement, Sessions notes that “1 in 3 U.S. residents now receives some form of means-tested assistance (e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, transition assistance for needy families), and median family income today is more than $4,000 beneath its level in December 2007.”
Recently released data also confirm Sessions' conclusion. Despite economic and job growth, both labor force participation and average hourly earnings were down in December.
Sessions cites to Bureau of Labor Statistics data reporting that “all net employment gains since the recession have gone to foreign workers while 1.5 million fewer U.S.-born Americans hold jobs today than did then.” Moreover, “One in five jobs in the U.S. is now held by a foreign worker.”
Despite this reality, Sessions notes, “Each year, the U.S. admits 1 million mostly low-skilled legal immigrants along with 700,000 temporary foreign workers, 500,000 foreign students, and 70,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.”
Based on these facts, Sessions poses a common-sense question that could have a big impact on the 2016 presidential race if pursued by the right candidate: “What sense does it make to continue legally importing millions of law-wage workers to fill jobs while sustaining millions of current residents on welfare?”
“The conservative approach would be to slow down a bit and focus on helping those struggling here today – both immigrant and native-born – rise out of poverty and into self-sufficiency,” Sessions says.
Simply stated, Sessions opposes “immigration policy which makes it harder for the unemployed to find jobs and easier for employers to keep pay low.” He supports “helping the unemployed return to the workforce, limiting work visas so wages can rise, and establishing firm control over entry and exit in the United States.”
Such an approach also involves addressing illegal immigration. So Sessions condemns President Obama's executive action, or “imperial decree,” granting “five million illegal immigrants work permits, Social Security, Medicare, and free tax credits – taking jobs and benefits directly from struggling American workers.”
Congressional Republicans are taking on this issue now, but their only leverage may be to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. That presents bit political risks, especially post-Paris.
Sessions also says Congress must deny funds for its implementation and also enact universal “E-verify” of immigration status by employers, end “catch-and-release,” repatriate unaccompanied minors, and close off welfare for illegal immigrants. Not everyone, and not even all Republicans or conservatives, agree, of course.
Immigration liberals often argue that immigrants do not take jobs from or depress the wages of native-born Americans. In a closely argued piece for The Atlantic recently, however, David Frum called that widely-shared assumption into serious question.
Frum first critiques the economic models upon which the pro-immigration argument is based. Next, he questions pro-immigration predictions about how natives respond to increased foreign competition in the workforce.
“Economists talk too blithely about natives shifting to more skilled and remunerative work,” Frum wrote. Up-skilling costs time, effort, and money. It can oblige a worker to move away from family and friends. It forces older workers to begin again at a time in their lives when they felt settled, to risk failure at a time in life when risk is not appreciated.”
In reality, Frum says, “It's not highly surprising that many displaced workers would opt to give up on work altogether instead.” Finally, Frum observes that the assumptions of positive immigration impacts are used to “justify policies that intensify competition for the lower and middle echelons of the society, rarely near the top.”
Frum concludes, “Perhaps it doesn't have to be that way, yet somehow it always is.” Session says it is up to Republicans to respond to a popular mandate to change things.
Sessions states his position bluntly. “The problem with the Republican Party's current immigration rhetoric can be summarized like this: Democrats fight with more passion in defense of illegal immigrants than Republicans fight in defense of American workers.”
To win in 2016, Sessions argues, Republicans will have to prove that they are in touch with the concerns of most Americans by showing the courage “to break from the donor class and defend the working class” because “donors don't win elections; voters win elections.”
Sessions does not stop there. “At this moment in time, there is likely no issue that – done properly and with authenticity – can do more to motivate the public for or against a party than immigration.”
He calls on the GOP which “stood alone in Congress to save America from the President's immigration bill and who alone have fought against his executive amnesty” to define itself “as the party of the American worker, the party of higher wages, and the one party that defends the American people from Democrats' extreme agenda of open borders and economic stagnation.”
Will Republicans heed that call? If they do, the contrast with Democrats, whose immigration policies hurt most the very people they profess to love best, would be dramatic and politically powerful.