Opinion
In this March 18, 2013 file photo the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., asks a question during the committees

Jeff Sessions’ immigration-amendment hypocrisy

Photo of Joshua Culling
Joshua Culling
Government Affairs Manager, Americans for Tax Reform

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) confirmed to Politico on Wednesday that he’s putting the brakes on the immigration bill. The Alabama senator is preventing lawmakers from considering amendments that would improve the legislation, most notably an amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that would strengthen the bill’s border security measures and bring conservative support to the overall package.

This is completely inconsistent with the purported objections of Sessions and other anti-immigration activists up to this point. Last month, Sessions falsely claimed that “despite insistence on their openness to improving the legislation, [the Gang of Eight] has continued to stick together to defeat any amendment that would make any serious improvement to border security.”

In fact, since its introduction the bill has been considered in an open and transparent manner. It was posted online for weeks before it was even considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Over 300 amendments were submitted, and 93 were added to the bill. Many of these were championed by Republicans, such as Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) amendment to make border security triggers dependent on control of the entire border, and Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) amendments to criminalize fraudulent documentation.

The bill was introduced two months ago, and it will probably be another three months before it comes up for a final vote in the Senate. The Gang of Eight has consistently maintained its support for regular order and an open process on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, Sessions stands in the way of conservative amendments that constructive Republican senators wish to offer.

Among these amendments is Cornyn’s RESULTS amendment, which would significantly increase border security measures and put in place stronger barriers to legalization for criminals. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is offering amendments that would make it harder for non-citizens to collect welfare or Obamacare benefits. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wants to tighten English proficiency requirements. These are all constructive contributions to the process and will ensure a final product much more amenable to conservatives, and much better for the country as a whole.

And that’s exactly Sessions’ objection. He and his small but vocal group of allies aren’t being honest; their entire goal is to kill the bill. Their supposed objections to it change daily based on what they think will slow down the bill’s momentum that particular day — even if that contradicts their past positions. On Tuesday, Sessions was complaining that there were too few opportunities to amend the bill; by Wednesday, he was preventing amendments from being considered.

Sessions should say what he means — he doesn’t want an immigration bill of any kind. Sessions believes the labor union talking points that suggest more competition is bad for the economy. He has no interest in improving the bill, because he doesn’t want any bill that increases the flow of foreign-born workers. And he’s certainly not in favor of an open process; his intention is to slow-walk amendments that would substantially improve this legislation.

If there’s one thing we should expect from all sides in this debate, it’s for them to be clear and forthcoming about their motives. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with Sessions. He was for an open amendment process before he was against it.

Joshua Culling is government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.