How Republicans Want To Reframe The Immigration Debate

Conn Carroll
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 8:00 PM
How Republicans Want To Reframe The Immigration Debate

Are you for or against "immigration reform"?

That is the question conservatives who oppose amnesty are tired of hearing. No one (conservative, moderate, or liberal) believes the current immigration system is working. The only real question is how should it be fixed.

For too long, many conservatives believe, pro-amnesty voices have defined the debate. What should we do with the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country today? Should we deport them or legalize them? How can American businesses get the foreign workers they need? How will our immigration policies affect Central American migrants?

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) believes a very important group has been left out of this liberal framing entirely: the American worker. In a 22-page memo hand delivered to ever Republican congressmen today, Sessions writes:

Republicans—who stood alone in Congress to save America from the President’s immigration bill and who alone have fought against his executive amnesty—must define themselves 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.

Sessions' memo notes that the foreign-born population of the United States actually fell from 1930 through 1950, before leveling off through the 1970, a time when American wages rose steadily. But since then, the foreign population has surged significantly, rising from 14 million in 1980 to more than 41 million today. During that same time period American worker wages have stagnated and have actually fallen by about $2,000 since 1980. 

Sessions does not believe this decline in American worker wages and the explosion of the foreign-born population are a coincidence. He writes:

Immigration policy directly affects voters in ways that Washington “experts” do not see or understand. It impacts their jobs, wages, hospitals, schools, communities, and security. The failure of politicians to understand these real and deep concerns has produced an increasingly large gap between what politicians say about immigration and what voters actually think. (Imagine for a moment immigration policy from the perspective of an American worker who has lost his job to lower-paid labor from abroad). Many inside the DC bubble have no awareness that immigration rates have quadrupled to record levels, that all net employment growth over the last 14 years has gone to foreign workers, or that studies indicate the surplus of labor being brought into the U.S. has been driving a precipitous decline in workers’ wages. And while these realities are never covered by the Beltway media, they are experienced by working people across the nation. 

Sessions recommends that Republicans pursue "discrete, targeted enforcement measures" that would help slow the growth of the foreign born population, including: mandatory E-Verify, ending tax credits for illegal immigrants; canceling federal funds to sanctuary cities, ending catch-and-release on the border, and suspension of visas to countries with high overstay rates.

The memo does not spend much time on Obama's November amnesty, but he does warn that, "how Congress responds to this emergency will define its legacy," and he bemoans the focus on the Keystone Pipeline and Trade Promotion Authority, "while funding DHS is treated more as a hurdle to clear than a line in the sand."

Separately, Sessions has endorsed Rep. Rob Aderholt's (R-AL) amendment to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which would not only defund Obama's November 2014 Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) amnesty, but also his June 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) amnesty as well. 

The Aderholt bill even reaches back to a series of memos written by former Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton that made it much easier for illegal immigrants to avoid deportation but did not give them work permits as the DAPA and DACA programs do.

Even if the Aderholt bill amendment is attached to the DHS funding bill, it is highly unlikely it would survive a Senate Democrat filibuster. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Angus King (I-ME), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have all come out against the provision.

But, by trying a more comprehensive attack on Obama's amnesties first, conservatives may make it easier to pass a narrower measure that undoes the November 2014 amnesty by limiting the number of work permits the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office can issue each year.

But conservatives will have to convince House Republican leadership to fight on the issue first. Which is what Sessions' memo is designed to do.