Republicans and Democrats staged an ideological drag show Friday at the first hearing for the pending immigration bill, demonstrating their efforts to win emotional support from the nation’s large bloc of influential middle-class voters.
Those voters want the cheaper services provided by immigrants, but they also want to feel good about their treatment of poor immigrants and poor Americans.
Republicans — who are often seen as shills for big business — presented an African-American labor lawyer to argue that an amnesty of 11 million people and the planned inflow of more than 1 million company-sponsored workers per year, would hurt working-class Americans, especially African-Americans.
In turn, the Democratic-led group presented a witness from a think-tank founded by a major GOP donor, to argue that the bill can increase the population, expand the economy, shrink the deficit, and end the unwanted controversy over illegal immigration. That’s a contrast from the public image of Democrats as anti-business, pro-immigrant spenders.
The witnesses got top billing once Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano withdrew from the high-profile hearing amid wall-to-wall news coverage of the Boston terrorism pursuit.
At first, the bloody murders — suspected to have been committed by two Chechen immigrants — allowed the bill’s opponents to hint that the proponents of greater immigration were increasing the danger to the public.
Immigration proponents protested.
“I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding the events in Boston or try to conflate those events with this legislation,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the leading Democratic proponent of the immigration bill.
More practically, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, changed the subject by calling the two labor and economics experts to testify earlier than scheduled.
The GOP witness was Peter Kirsanow, a labor lawyer who serves on the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
“Our study suggests that a 10% immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group is associated with a reduction in the black wage of 21.5%, a reduction in the black employment rate of 5.9 percentage points and an increase in the black institutionalization rate of 1.3 percent,” he said.
“Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants will only further harm African-American workers … [ensure] more people will come to America illegally and will further crowd African-American men (and other low-skilled men and women) out of the workforce,” he testified.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top GOP member on the Senate’e banking committee, enthusiastically backed Kirsanow.
The immigration bill “is madness,” said Sessions, whose home state has curbed business’ use of illegal immigrants, amid protests from business groups.
“We have more low-skilled labor than we can find jobs for today … the average wage of American workers has been declining relative to inflation for 15 years,” he said.
“This bill was written by big business, by agriculture business, rather than by the public,” he declared.