Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions is pushing his fellow GOP senators to treat the immigration debate as a middle-class economic issue that could help the GOP win the presidency in 2016.
Republicans “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,” he says in a 23-page memo, which sidelines racial and ethnic wedge issues.
Obama’s push to block deportations of nearly all illegals and to award work permits to five million foreign migrants “is our chance to stand up and fight for millions of loyal struggling citizens who have been neglected … for the good and decent people of this country who pay their taxes, fight our wars, follow the rules, love their country, and only expect in return that their country will defend their legitimate interests,” Sessions says in the document, which is being delivered to every Republican House and Senate office.
The memo is titled “Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority.”
Sessions’ impassioned call comes as House leaders prepared a bill that would reverse Obama’s rollback of immigration enforcement since 2010.
Last week, House leaders agreed to a reform bill after the GOP base revolted against GOP leaders’ December tacit support for Obama’s amnesty and work-permit plan, announced Nov. 20.
The GOP reform bill is expected to land on Majority Leader Mitch Connell’s desk by mid-January, forcing him to decide how or whether to please the base — and many swing voters — or to please business groups eager for the additional flow of lower-paid workers and customers.
Sessions’ memo makes sure to tweak the business groups, with a section titled “The Silicon Valley STEM Hoax,” plus a section on the economic impact of large-scale immigration.
“From 2000 through 2014 — when 14 million new permanent legal immigrants were admitted to the U.S. in addition to the illegal immigration flow — all net employment gains went to immigrant workers … even as the population of U.S.-born workers climbed by 16.4 million,” he says, citing federal data.
So far, McConnell and his fellow GOP senators have shown no eagerness to reverse Obama’s rollback — and little eagerness to force Democratic senators to uphold Obama’s immigration policies.
Instead, numerous GOP leaders are talking up draft bills that would increase the inflow of foreign guest workers by roughly 600,000 a year, up to roughly 1.3 million. Those guest workers would include manual laborers for the agriculture and food sectors, low-skilled labor for restaurants and resorts, plus university-trained labor for universities, hospitals, financial firms and back-office outsourcing firms.
Roughly four million young Americans enter the workforce each year, where they must compete for jobs against one million new immigrants and a resident population of roughly 1.2 million guest workers. In late 2014, fewer native-born Americans held jobs than in 2007, while migrants’ share of all jobs rose from one-sixth to one-fifth.
However, Sessions’ pitch is likely to be helped by the growing recognition that Americans’ salaries have been flat for at least 14 years. Voters’ stalled wages recently have been highlighted by the established media, and by a growing number of Democratic and GOP politicians, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.
But many of those politicians have also championed greater immigration. In contrast, former Sen. Rick Santorum looks set to make immigration’s impact on wages a central element of his campaign for the White House.
Sessions has the support of handful of senators — chiefly Utah Sen. Mike Lee — but he is also offering Republicans what he says is a route to victory in November 2016 against former Sen. Hillary Clinton.
“The largest untapped constituency in American politics are the 300 million American citizens who have been completely left out of the immigration debate,” says his memo.
“Speak to that constituency — with clarity and compassion—and change the issue forever … [because] Republicans cannot win in 2016 without these voters, and Republicans cannot win these voters unless they prove that they are willing to break from the donor class and defend the working class.”
“Donors don’t win elections; voters win elections,” he says.
Sessions bolstered his case by citing the November ballot result from Oregon, where two thirds of voters in the solid-blue state voted to deny drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.
“Polling data commissioned by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and made public by Paragon Insights shows that an economically focused message resonates with voters of all economic backgrounds, all ethnic backgrounds, male and female, old and young, Democrat and Republican and Independent … [plus] working class and women voters who are being hammered in this economy,” says the message from Sessions, who helped rally House GOP legislators against the 2013 immigration rewrite approved by the Senate.
The economic pitch “generates very strong, highly motivated support, and very weak opposition,” says Sessions’ report.
Those polls may provide a path in 2016 for the GOP’s candidate to win the swing voters long alienated by the media’s magnification of the GOP support for wealthy business owners and investors.
The September poll by Paragon Insights showed that large slices of the Democratic coalition would be “much more likely” to vote for a GOP candidate who says that “the first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work — not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.”
Thirty-eight percent of African-Americans, 39 percent of Democratic women, 36 percent of Latinos and roughly 47 percent of Midwesterners said they would be much more likely to support a GOP candidate who favors the employment of Americans.