In their zeal to fire political volleys against immigrants and commonsense reform of our broken immigration system, the Senate’s Republican leadership turned to Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to lead their work on the issue.
Sessions, one of the legislative leaders of the anti-immigrant movement, now chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest — a name change from a title that used to include “refugees” and “border security,” reflecting a lack of focus on refugees and an implication that immigration somehow isn’t in the nation’s best interest, despite the country’s rich immigrant history.
When he accepted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s, R-Ky., subcommittee assignment, Sessions stated his mission was to call attention to U.S. workers who he believes have been hurt by “record immigration.”
His broader goal is to carry the flag for those seeking to undermine President Barack Obama’s proposals to expand the successful 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and proposed Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents relief program, for those who are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
With that background, the Alabaman played a strong role in the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about how immigration affects workers. Sessions lamented that struggling American workers are hurt by the presence of immigrants.
“People aren’t commodities,” Sessions said, reminding the panel of experts that workers have families and should have stability. He then outlined all the ways Congress helps people get the training they need to succeed in the workplace.
However, Sessions’ talking point, echoed by his allies in the House such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is not sustained by the facts. Further, Republicans’ pro-worker statements are contradicted by their extensive legislative records opposing proposals that would help hardworking Americans, particularly workers earning low wages.
Sessions is a case in point. Instead of standing up for workers’ rights, the immigration subcommittee chairman voted last year against a bill to increase the federal minimum wage, even though the middle class is shrinking and the number of workers toiling in low-paying jobs, struggling to make ends meet, is growing. He also voted against equal-pay amendments that would benefit American women.
In 2013, Sessions voted to weaken a ban on employer discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. He also opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which strengthened penalties against employers engaging in gender-based employment discrimination.
His record on benefits for the unemployed is equally dismal. Sessions not only voted last year to block consideration of a bill to extend unemployment benefits, he tried to attach an amendment requiring E-Verify, a federal electronic employment verification system that has adversely impacted both U.S. citizens and immigrant workers alike.
The Alabama senator also has a long record of voting against job creation and tax policies designed to prevent out-sourcing of U.S. jobs. And, while 61 percent of homes in his state have children on a federal food program, the senator has mocked supporters of food stamps.
But Sessions and his party seem uninterested in workers’ economic well-being. Case in point: Blocking the president’s executive action on immigration would damage the economy by denying immigrant workers permission to live, work and pay taxes in the U.S. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has determined that a proposal by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to roll back Obama’s actions would balloon the federal deficit by $6.3 billion over 10 years.
By contrast, the Council of Economic Advisers has reported that the expanded DACA and DAPA initiatives raise the gross domestic product by an additional $90 billion in today’s dollars. The programs would not impact the livelihood of employment for U.S.-born workers, who would see their average wages go up. And, the president’s immigration initiatives would cut the federal deficit by $25 billion in 10 years.
The economic benefits would be just as significant in Sessions’s home state, with the local GDP almost doubling by $1 billion, to $2.4 billion. Yet Sessions and his colleagues are obsessed with ridding us of these natural economic boosts.
Our economy is growing stronger because of the contributions of all U.S. workers, U.S.-born and immigrant alike. Unfortunately, Sessions and his allies are shamefully using American workers as a political tool by pitting them against immigrants, while consistently voting against policies that would benefit both.
Republican lawmakers should drop the pretense that they are looking out for American workers, when their real goal is to stop any steps the president or others take to mend part of our immigration system.
Workers know better and know who has their best interests in mind, and it certainly is not Sessions and his allies.
Marielena Hincapié is executive director of the NILC Immigrant Justice Fund.