Politics
immigration sign. Photo: Getty Images immigration sign. Photo: Getty Images  

Republicans shift immigration debate from amnesty to Americans’ jobs

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

A group of House Republicans is trying to shift legislators’ and media attention in the immigration debate away from the proposed amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants and toward the 140 million Americans now trying to earn a decent living amid high unemployment and declining wages.

“Amnesty is a component part of the overall issue and I tried to focus on the overall economic issue,” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, who issued a statement for the group, told The Daily Caller. “For me, the issue has always been about the damage that the president’s immigration policy will do to the American economy and to American workers.”

Sixteen House conservatives signed the letter, including Rep. Tom Cotton, who is running for a Senate seat in Arkansas.

“I can’t say for a certainty why some Representatives have not cosigned a letter to protect American workers, but I do note that it is an election year and there is some fear associated with very wealthy people who are contributors [and] who make profits by hiring illegal aliens and foreign workers over American citizens,” Brooks said.

The letter slams the Senate-passed bill, which President Barack Obama has repeatedly endorsed.

“So-called comprehensive immigration reform may be a good deal for big businesses who want to reduce labor costs, and it may be a good deal for progressive labor unions seeking new workers from abroad, but it’s an awful deal for U.S. workers — including African-American and Hispanic communities enduring chronically high unemployment,” said the letter, which doesn’t mention amnesty.

The Senate-passed immigration bill “would double the number of guest workers brought into this country at a time of crippling joblessness and falling income … [and it] would add millions more permanent immigrant workers through green cards,” said the letter.

The Congressional Budget Office’s June report “confirms that these immigrants will be mostly lower-skilled, and that wages for American citizens would fall while American unemployment would rise,” said the letter.

Roughly 21 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Wages have been flat for decades, and economic inequality has spiked, amid record levels of low-skill immigration, now about one million per year.

The letter’s focus on American workers is unusual, mostly because advocates for an immigration rewrite focus the media’s attention on the demand for amnesty of illegal immigrants who face deportation.

Illegal immigrants win a good deal of sympathy from reporters, especially if they have gotten into university or have lived in the U.S. as children. Partly because of the sympathetic coverage, advocates’ polls show that many Americans would back a conditional and staged amnesty for the illegals, but only if government would actually enforce immigration laws. Few Americans, however, think amnesty is a priority.

But very few voters support the paired demand by business for more immigrant workers. In fact, one 2013 poll showed that only two percent of Americans strongly back a law allowing companies to hire foreigners while Americans are unemployed.

Brooks’ letter highlights the public’s deep opposition to immigrant workers. Obama is “increasing the labor supply by roughly a third … [which is] going to suppress the wages of almost all Americans, especially blue-collar workers. The upper class tends to gain because it means they can hire people for less, and that’s why the Chamber of Commerce is stridently for wage suppression,” said Brooks, who is regarded by progressives as a right-winger.

Obama and White House officials do not recognize a link between Americans’ economic problems and low-skill immigration. Instead, they’re simultaneously calling for measures to reduce economic inequality and to increase immigration. ”What the Senate passed in a bipartisan way adheres to [Obama's] principles,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Jan. 7.

The law will “bring great benefit to our economy and our businesses, which is, again, the focus of the president and of so many members of both parties here in Washington,” he admitted.

But a CBO report, which Obama frequently cites, also showed that the Senate bill would steer an even greater share of the nation’s income to investors, away from workers.

One day before Brooks released the letter, the chamber declared it would redouble its push for additional cheap labor.

The chamber “will pull out all the stops — through grassroots lobbying, communications, politics, and partnerships with unions, faith organizations, law enforcement and others — to get it done,” Tom Donohue, the president of the chamber, told reporters Jan. 7.

The chamber will also use its clout and funding to displace political candidates who won’t back its preferences, he said. “If you can’t make them see the light, then at least make them feel some heat,” Donohue said.

The GOP’s House leaders have been vague about their views on immigration, and have zig-zagged between their business donors and their voters. ”The House leadership has been all over the map on the immigration issue and so I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Brooks told TheDC.

In the Senate, Sen. Jeff Sessions has frequently highlighted the impact of the Senate bill on American workers.

The Senate bill would triple legal immigration for a decade, and double the inflow of temporary guest workers. The resulting inflow of 33 million immigrants and roughly 13 million guest workers would provide one immigrant or guest worker to compete against every American for a job.

The increased competition is hitting university graduates and professionals, not just blue-collar workers. California’s top court, for example, recently allow an illegal immigrant to begin working as a lawyer in the state. At least 700,000 university trained guest workers are already working in the nation’s labs, hospitals, universities and stock-picking companies.

Follow Neil on Twitter