Op-Eds

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Jan 06 2014

Crowding Out U.S. Workers

The GOP needs to oppose the White House’s immigration plan and expose its flaws.

Several prominent amnesty advocates, including Mark Zuckerberg and top Obama administration officials, have argued that amnesty is a civil right. The claim is, of course, preposterous on its face. Under this reasoning, every immigrant currently living in the U.S. on a temporary visa has the right to refuse to leave when that visa expires. And every household in a foreign country has the right to enter the U.S. illegally tomorrow and demand the Obama administration’s amnesty for “DREAMers” and their relatives.

To say that amnesty is a civil right is to effectively declare to the world the right to enter the United States without permission, to bring one’s family, and to receive all of the financial benefits our nation provides. To say that one has a right to freely violate our immigration laws is to deny the very idea that a nation can establish enforceable borders.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s motivation is not elusive. He heads a lobbying group representing many of his industry’s wealthiest CEOs, and their companies wish to extract generous guest-worker programs from Congress. Similar efforts are underway from other CEOs seeking new workers for everything from manufacturing to construction to restaurant jobs. Presumably, Mr. Zuckerberg believes it is more advantageous to frame the group’s lobbying as a civil-rights crusade than as a corporate crusade for lower-cost foreign labor.

Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has called the argument that amnesty is a civil right “incoherent and ahistorical.” He explains that the civil-rights movement sought equal protection of the laws for all Americans, whereas a grant of mass amnesty necessitates the uneven application of the law, privileging the illegal immigrant over the lawful immigrant and U.S. citizen, causing disproportionate harm to African-American workers in the process. Mr. Kirsanow notes that such policies “would severely affect the rights of blacks generally and all low-income Americans. What it is going to do is displace those individuals from the labor market.”

Kirsanow has written elsewhere that “the bill will wreak enormous damage to the employment prospects of American workers who have already seen their wages and employment rates plummet over the last several years. . . . It will act as a magnet for future illegal immigration and substantially increase the number of legal immigrants. It is conservatively estimated that the bill will result in 30–33 million additional immigrants over the next 10 years.” 

The upside-down conception of rights increasingly articulated by amnesty activists would mean that when an illegal worker seeks a job sought or held by an American worker, the civil-rights equity is on the side of the illegal worker.

Yet the Republican party does little to rebut these immigration fallacies. Although the GOP is the one group standing between the American people and this legislative disaster, its formal message has been muddled and uninspired. Rather than clearly opposing the White House immigration plan and exposing its flaws, the party’s official response to the White House pressure campaign has been passive, weak-kneed, and lacking in principle.

Republican officials reflexively collapse into a defensive posture, offering assurances that they will pass undefined “immigration reform” because we need to “fix our nation’s broken immigration system.” But does doubling the annual flow of immigrant workers fix a broken system, or make it dramatically worse? Is our goal just to do “something,” or to do the right thing?

The RNC should demand that the president and Senate Democrats justify their embrace of a bill that would double the flow of immigrant workers when a record 91.5 million Americans are outside the labor force. Republican leaders should also demand answers from the White House about its open refusal to uphold existing law.

We are in the midst of an unprecedented period of uninterrupted levels of high immigration, coinciding with falling wages, declining work-force participation, and expanding welfare rolls. Yet “immigration reform” somehow remains a euphemism for the tired formula of combining an indiscriminate amnesty with a massive surge in new workers from abroad. Shouldn’t we allow wages to rise and give time for those more recently arrived to rise into the middle class?

Rhetoric lags behind reality. Many in Washington argue that we must urgently pry loose the ports of entry, seemingly unaware that those ports of entry have long ago been flung wide open: The U.S. admits more immigrants each year than any other country on earth.  In fact, the number of immigrants to the U.S. has quadrupled over the past four decades, and more permanent residents were admitted in the past ten years than in any previous ten-year window. Just last year the U.S. admitted over 1 million mostly lower-skill permanent immigrants (who can apply for citizenship) in addition to roughly 700,000 guest workers, 200,000 family members of guest workers, and 500,000 students. 

U.K. prime minister David Cameron, explaining his efforts to establish immigration controls, said:

There are those who say you can’t have a sensible debate because it’s somehow wrong to express concerns about immigration. Now I think this is nonsense. Yes, of course it needs to be approached in a sensitive and a rational manner, but I’ve always understood the concerns — the genuine concerns of hard-working people, including many in our migrant communities, who worry about uncontrolled immigration. . . . We can’t allow immigration to be a substitute for training our own workforce and giving them incentives to work.

So what kind of immigration policy then do we need for the 21st century?

That is the conversation we should be having. Not only on immigration but on trade, taxes, welfare, and energy, Republicans should seize the opportunity to offer a conservative vision for this new century, a vision centered on the legitimate interests of working Americans.

— Jeff Sessions is the junior United States senator from Alabama and the ranking Republican member on the Senate Budget Committee.