Jeff Sessions declines to march to the tune of big business on immigration

Don’t count Sen. Jeff Sessions among those Republican legislators who support comprehensive immigration reform as a service to business interests. In fact, Sessions doesn’t even favor the expanded guest worker program so dear to business. He states:

One of the most important concerns — and too little discussed — is the economic impact. The last time Congress considered a comprehensive immigration bill, unemployment was 4.5 percent. Today, it’s nearly 8 percent. Forty percent of those unemployed have been out of work for six months or longer. The labor force participation rate is at a thirty-year low. The unemployment rate for teenagers is 25.1 percent. Wages are stagnant. Never before have more Americans been on food stamps and other forms of welfare.

Yet all we hear from those interests pushing for a comprehensive immigration bill is that we have a labor shortage and need to import more low-skill workers.

An expanded guest-worker program will not benefit unemployed American and legal workers. . . .[T]he very jobs that would be an entry point into the labor force for the unemployed — particularly for the young — are the jobs that are seemingly being negotiated away as part of this comprehensive bill.

Every American worker, union and non-union, is right to be concerned about a large guest-worker program combined with a large amnesty of illegal workers. There is no doubt that such a program will reduce Americans’ wages and job prospects. Ultimately, Congress must recognize that has to be focused on meeting the needs of unemployed and underemployed American workers. The economic impact of immigration is the overriding concern about which there has been much too little serious conversation.

Although I’m skeptical, on balance, of the merits of the economic argument against a guest worker program, I think Sessions should be commended for focusing on the economic dimension and for declining to march in lockstep with business interests.

JOHN adds: I am, I hope, as pro-business as they come, but this is one of the rare occasions when I disagree with Paul. Like Sessions, who has become, in my view, the conscience of the U.S. Senate, I oppose a guest worker program because its effect–its entire purpose, really–will be to depress the wages of unskilled and semiskilled Americans. Beyond that, I think the creation of a caste of low-wage immigrants who can never aspire to citizenship and can never vote is socially corrosive. Admittedly, this is essentially what we have now, with immigration laws deliberately unenforced. But I never voted for the status quo, either. Nor did anyone else, as far as I know.

Paul writes about Republicans supporting business interests with respect to immigration, which is fair enough. But a reader fills in some details about what business interests are at stake:

I would take issue with those who characterize the business forces as “big business”. They certainly are powerful, but not because they are “big” business. It’s because they are a big multitude of small and medium businesses.

Overwhelmingly the employers of illegal aliens are the ranchers, farmers, growers, contractors, restaurateurs and small business generally. The biggest lobbyist is EWIC, the “Essential Workers Immigration Coalition” which are small non-ag businesses. The Ag industry as a whole could be construed as “big business”, I suppose, but it’s not the image that comes to mind which is more like GE, IBM or a large financial institution. The latter don’t generally hire very low wage workers and aren’t interested in a corrupted HR process which would bring in lots of illegal workers. There is nothing in it for them. Large ag processors, particularly in meat processing are the exception as they have substituted illegal labor for unionized domestic workforces of the past.

It’s mainly thousands of individual ag businesses in the upstream segment, i.e., farmers, et al., who are the primary scofflaws. They’re pretty open about it, too, stating that 70% of their workforce is illegal. They are the primary drivers of a “guest worker” program, though no doubt contractors are right up there, too. They are joined by local boosters and real estate interests who benefit from ag indirectly and supported by local politicians who are always boosters.

The culprits are not “big business”…otherwise it would be easier to beat them.

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