Op-Eds

The president, the Senate, and the House were all sent to Washington by American citizens. Every decision we make must be guided by how it will impact the lives and livelihoods of the people who sent us here on their behalf. Yet in the current immigration debate, the American citizenry is the one group that has been almost entirely forgotten.

While the Gang of Eight legislation provided special interest groups — from La Raza to the Chamber of Commerce — with their desired provisions, the core interests of the American people were sacrificed completely.

Perhaps the least discussed but most important feature of the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan is its arrangement with certain business groups to provide them with multiple avenues to avoid hiring U.S. workers by bringing in record numbers of workers from abroad — many of whom will be granted permanent residency and thus eventual citizenship.

Over the next decade, the Senate plan provides roughly 30 million mostly lower-skill immigrants with permanent residency through green cards. Less than 10 percent of these green cards are allocated through the Gang’s alleged merit system. Moreover, green-card holders will be able to petition in future years to bring in their relatives, including elderly parents, commencing a permanent expansion of chain migration unrelated to skill set.

On top of the 30 million green cards, the Gang of Eight’s proposal also doubles the number of non-immigrant guest workers admitted each year from approximately 600,000 today to an average of 1.2 million annually over the next decade. In the first year of the bill, due to the inclusion of family members, the number will spike to 1.6 million, with only 7 percent doing agricultural work. The other 93 percent will be hired to fill jobs in virtually every sector, including construction work, nursing, teaching at public schools, driving trucks, heavy equipment operators, mining and manufacturing.

At the same time, a record number of Americans have either left or been pushed out of the workforce. Less than 60 percent of U.S. adults are working, a record 11 million are on disability, another record 47 million are on food stamps, median household net worth has dropped 60 percent since 2007, and inflation-adjusted wages are lower than in 1999. The number of people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer is 4.3 million, and 11.3 million people — including nearly a quarter of all youths — are looking for a job but can’t find one.

There is not a shortage of workers, but a shortage of jobs.

We cannot place more and more Americans on welfare while employing an ever-expanding pool of workers from abroad in their place. Instead, we must focus on getting Americans off of welfare and into well-paying jobs that can support a family.

The Congressional Budget Office confirms the Senate bill would not only increase unemployment but would reduce wages for a dozen years. How can Congress justify moving any proposal that will cause such damage to struggling U.S. workers?

But even the CBO’s report underestimates the negative consequences. Harvard’s Dr. George Borjas, the nation’s leading expert on the economics of immigration policy, has found that between 1980-2000, high levels of low-skill immigration caused a 7.4 percent decline in the wages of U.S. workers without a high school diploma. Considering that the Senate bill would triple the number of people granted permanent legal residency over the next decade, the impact on wages will be disastrous.

There is also a draft proposal from two GOP lawmakers in the House to increase by as much as sixfold the number of low-skilled non-farm guest workers. The co-author of this proposal recently made the oft-recycled claim that such a plan is necessary to prevent future illegal immigration. This argument is fallacious for many reasons. Most fundamentally, the United States is a sovereign nation that can establish and enforce immigration levels based on national consensus. Business groups do not have the right to demand as many workers brought in as they want, threatening to hire workers illegally if those demands are not met.

The CBO also demonstrates why this justification is false. It is clear from its analysis that the Senate’s proposed increase in guest workers will be a driving force in future illegal immigration, with millions overstaying their visas. Why should we expect any different? Proponents of “comprehensive reform” argue that the enforcement of immigration law must be suspended if it disrupts family unity. In other words, they are arguing today that the very guest workers they wish to bring in tomorrow cannot be sent home if they have children and cannot be refused if they wish to bring relatives to join them.

We have heard repeatedly from House leadership that the Senate bill is “dead on arrival” and that, instead, the House will pursue a comprehensive proposal in smaller chunks. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), certain business groups, and anti-enforcement advocates have all expressed optimism about the House’s approach. Presumably, this is because they believe the House’s individual bills will be melded into the Gang of Eight’s proposal (either in conference or closed-door negotiations) to form a new comprehensive bill.

The House must disavow the Senate bill completely and offer it no hope of reprieve, reprisal, or resurrection. Instead, the House must refocus the immigration debate on the rights, needs, and concerns of U.S. citizens. By promoting the constitutional rule of law, rising wages, and economic assimilation, the House can ensure a better tomorrow for all U.S. citizens — immigrant and native-born alike.

Sessions is the junior senator from Alabama, serving since 1997. He sits on the Armed Services; Budget; Judiciary; and Environment and Public Works committees.