[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Sen. Sessions' response to this Anniston Star editorial.]
By Jeff Sessions
Special to The Star
There is an unspoken question at the heart of the immigration debate: What is the loyalty a nation owes to its own citizens?
Business groups financing the push for comprehensive immigration reform believe they have the right to demand from Congress as many workers as they want from abroad at the wages they prefer. How this affects the struggling U.S. citizen is not their concern.
But the costs -- human and financial -- would be enormous.
Drafters of the Senate immigration plan delivered spectacularly for these business groups' priorities: the Senate bill adds four times more guest workers than the rejected 2007 immigration proposal and, based on Congressional Budget Office data, adds 46 million mostly lower-skill legal immigrants and their relatives to the country by 2033. The result? CBO says average wages would fall for a dozen years, unemployment would rise, and the nation's per-person wealth would sink for the next quarter century.
Cheering its Senate passage, the White House released a new report declaring that the Senate bill's large proposed expansion of our already very generous immigration programs -- including a further surge in "low-skill visa programs" -- is exactly what our country needs.
Here is one gem from the White house paper: "The broader leisure and hospitality industry -- one of the fastest-growing sectors of the United States economy -- also stands to benefit significantly from commonsense immigration reform … like agriculture, a portion of their current workforce is undocumented. Leaders of these industries have been longtime proponents of legislation that would legalize workers in the U.S. and facilitate the lawful employment of future foreign-born workers. The head of the American Hotel and Lodging Association this year applauded the Senate on behalf of the lodging industry for its bipartisan commitment to immigration reform."
Are we really to believe that the leisure and hospitality industry cannot get by unless (as the Senate bill does) we both pardon them for the large-scale hiring of illegal workers and then provide them with a substantially expanded flow of low-skill workers from other countries?
In a free-market society, wages for workers are set by supply and demand. If a business is unable to attract the number of workers it needs, it must raise wages. Businesses no more have the right to demand central planners in Washington provide them with workers from around the world at desired wages than they have the right to demand a taxpayer bailout.
Would it not better serve the national interest to get our citizens off of welfare and into good jobs with rising pay? Labor force participation is at a 30-year low, welfare spending has eclipsed $1 trillion annually, and wages are now lower than they were in 1999.
Research from Harvard's George Borjas demonstrated that high levels of low-skill immigration from 1980–2000 resulted in a 7.4 percent wage drop for U.S. workers without a high school diploma. Today, 1-in-3 such Americans can't find a job.
But rather than face the reality that more than 40 percent of U.S. adults are not working, the president and many congressional lawmakers are determined to provide businesses with an easy avenue to avoid hiring these citizens -- especially those who have been chronically unemployed.
The costs are not only economic -- including lower wages and higher unemployment -- but social. Consider a city such as Detroit. One-in-3 Detroit households is on food stamps. The education system is failing, families are breaking apart and millions have been trapped in poverty for generations.
Unemployment has crushing human consequences. Yet this is happening is cities and towns all across America. We have a national obligation to help struggling Americans get back to work, earning incomes that can support a family, and ultimately rescue them from reliance on welfare.
Currently, our federal government spends 100 times more on welfare than job training. Those job training programs we do have are duplicative and inefficient. If businesses think there are no available workers to fill job openings, shouldn't we be more focused on helping our own citizens get the skills they need to re-enter the workforce? Would that not help to improve community conditions and social stability?
Yet, on the heels of the disastrous Senate bill, two key House Republicans are now floating an immigration proposal that would double the already huge increase in low-skill guest workers offered by the Senate. The House needs to repudiate the Senate's destructive proposal, not make it even worse.
Congress must address the large and growing share of the U.S. population that struggles with long-term welfare reliance and unemployment. Rushing in more workers from abroad to fill limited job openings is not the answer.
A nation does owe its fundamental loyalty to its own citizens, and that should be the guiding force in crafting a generous but responsible immigration plan. Businesses are free to ask for special treatment. But elected officials have an obligation to say no.
Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. This column originally appeared in USA Today.