Reform-minded GOP legislators are nudging the GOP’s immigration debate towards a focus on American wage-earners, and away from a focus on companies’ demands for new workers.
“Rather than responding to the big-money lobbying on K Street, we need to make sure working-class Americans show up by the millions to reject Obamacare and vote out the Democrats,” said a Jan. 31 statement from Sen. Ted Cruz. That’s a new populist twist for Cruz, a libertarian, who is expected to run for president in 2016.
GOP support for President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority would drop Americans’ wages and increase unemployment, Rep. John Fleming told The Daily Caller. “That’s not not a good way to help your party,” he said.
But they’re running up against the business interests that shaped the House GOP’s immigration plan, released Jan. 30 at the GOP policy retreat in Cambridge, Md.
Throughout the immigration debate, progressives and the establishment media have focused public attention on the campaign for amnesty by Latino leaders and roughly 12 million illegal immigrants. (RELATED: New York Times reporter calls amnesty for illegal immigrants a civil right)
However, Obama and his allied progressives have quietly directed business lobbyists against the GOP, by blocking businesses’ demands for extra foreign workers until the GOP agrees to put illegal immigrants on a pathway to the ballot box.
“If we’re reasonable with 11 million, if we all give them a pathway to citizenship … then the Democratic Party has to give us the guest worker program to help our economy,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told NBC last April.
In June, business lobbyists persuaded many GOP senators to back an immigration bill that would triple the legal inflow of Democratic-leaning immigrants to 30 million, and roughly the double the inflow of non-agricultural guest workers to more than 15 million, over the next decade.
That supply of extra workers is enormous compared to the nation’s roughly 28 million teenagers, 18 million African-American workers and roughly 34 million blue-collar workers.
Business pressure on the GOP has persuaded many Republican legislators and staffers that the nation is facing a shortage of unskilled and university-trained workers, despite the high unemployment and underemployment among unskilled and professional workers.
But Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions has fought the push from businesses, arguing that lower immigration will boost wages, attract Latino voters and increase GOP tallies in presidential races.
Sessions stepped up the pressure last week by delivering a package of immigration-related data to all GOP House legislators that explained how large-scale immigration shrinks Americans’ wages. He also directly criticized a top GOP donor.
“Rank-and-file House Republicans are the last line of defense for working Americans,” Sessions said in a three-page letter included in the package, which the GOP legislators received as they left for their three-day strategy retreat.
“Now is the time for rank-and-file House Republicans to claim the leadership mantle and to say, firmly: our goal is to transition millions of struggling Americans from welfare and joblessness to work and rising wages,” Sessions said. (RELATED: Sessions chides GOP donor, House leaders, journos on amnesty)
In contrast, the one-page immigration plan released at the retreat by Boehner focused on businesses’ needs. It suggested that immigration is needed to help the nation’s economy and companies, not American citizens.
“Visa and green card allocations [available for foreign workers] need to reflect the needs of employers and the desire for these exceptional individuals to help grow our economy,” the document says.
The document suggested an immigration rewrite must allow companies to import more university-trained guest-workers, who would compete against the 800,000 Americans who graduate each year with skilled degrees. Roughly 800,000 foreign professionals are now working as guest-workers in many cities and universities.
The proposed reform would also allow the 12 million illegals to compete for the jobs sought by the four million Americans who turn 18 each year, and also sought by the 20 million unemployed and underemployed Americans.
Only about one-third of GOP legislators who spoke at the meeting supported passage of the law in 2013.
West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is running for a Senate seat in Virginia, and her website declares that “she wants to ensure that millions of jobs are not taken from hardworking Americans by illegal immigrants and believes that employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should be penalized.”
In early January, 16 GOP legislators urged Boehner to focus on the needs of American workers. “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,” Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks told The Daily Caller. The signers include Rep. Tom Cotton, who is running for for the Senate this year.
Since Boehner released his business-friendly plan, Sessions’ pitch has been echoed by Cruz and other legislators.
“Enacting bad immigration policy can threaten the livelihoods of American workers and make it harder for the unemployed to find jobs,” said a Jan. 30 statement from Alabama Rep. Martha Roby. “Our primary focus should be working to improve our economy and jumpstart job growth so that American moms and dads can make ends meet.”
“I will work with my conservative colleagues and my home state Senator Jeff Sessions to advocate for strong and accountable border security protections first, and to force President Obama to do his job enforcing our existing laws,” said a statement from Rep. Bradley Byrne.
Byrne was recently elected with support from the Chamber of Commerce, which is working with Boehner, Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Bob Goodlatte to bring in more foreign workers.
Their pitch has been backed by numerous independent polls, which show opposition to immigration increases, plus opposition to increased immigration among GOP voters, swing-voting independents and middle-class and working-class voters.
“A majority [56 percent] of Americans … say that illegal immigrants hurt the economy by driving down wages for many Americans,” according a March poll 2013 by the left-of-center Public Religion Research Institute.
A January Rasmussen poll showed 62 percent of people who earn more than $200,000 support the proposed tripling of immigration, while 28 percent oppose it. People who earn between $100,000 and $200,000 favor the increase by 47 percent to 38 percent, said the poll.
But there’s a 36 point shift among people who earn between $50,000 and $100,000. They oppose the increase by 57 percent to 30 percent. People who earn between $33,000 and $50,000 also strongly oppose the increase, by 52 percent to 33 percent, said Rasmussen.
Overall, 36 percent of moderates and 62 percent of liberals support the increase, while 50 percent of moderates 28 percent of liberals oppose the increase, said the poll.
The income-based difference is likely rational.
If the Senate bill becomes law, it would shift more of the nation’s income to the wealthy, according to a June report by the Congressional Budget Office.
Immigration transfers middle-class wages to wealthy investors and employers because new immigrants bid down the middle-class wages, according to a 2013 study by Harvard economist George Borjas.
Numerous billionaires, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and investor Steve Case, are backing the Senate’s immigration bill.
Immediately after the retreat, a group funded by Zuckerberg launched a $750,000 media campaign to tout Boehner’s approach. The ads play up border enforcement and the conditional amnesty, don’t mention number of illegal immigrants who will be granted amnesty or the increased importation of foreign workers.