3 Ways Sen. Jeff Sessions Is Wrong About Immigration Hurting American Workers


Just days ahead of House Republicans releasing a document that outlines a plan to overhaul the broken immigration system, an immigration-restrictionist senator is making the argument that this type of potential legislative policy would amount to “an extraordinary act of self-sabotage.” On Sunday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) authored a USA Today op-ed titled “Immigration spikes income inequality,” heavily citing right-wing organizations to claim that immigration would hurt Americans workers and wages.

In his op-ed, Sessions said that the soon-to-be released House Republican immigration plan would disproportionately affect American workers because it would likely grant work permits for “millions of illegal immigrants with large permanent increases in the flow of new workers from abroad.” He argued in part:

Harvard professor George Borjas determined that high levels of immigration from 1980 through 2000 resulted in a 7.4% wage reduction for workers without a high school diploma. Similarly, he found current immigration policy resulted in a net wage loss of $402 billion for workers competing directly with immigrant labor.

Republicans have the opportunity to give voice to the working and middle-class Americans whose wages and job prospects have eroded drastically in recent years. House GOP leaders are reportedly planning to release their “immigration principles” this week. Unfortunately, leaks reveal the leaders’ plan mirrors central elements of the president’s plan, combining work permits for millions of illegal immigrants with large permanent increases in the flow of new workers from abroad. This would be an extraordinary act of self-sabotage.

Would it not be in the national interest to help move Americans off of welfare and into good paying jobs that can support a family? Is there not an argument to be made that we should slow down and allow wages to rise, assimilation to occur, and both immigrants and citizens to rise together into the middle class?

It’s clear that Sessions doesn’t want immigration reform to happen. Here are some of the op-ed claims about reform that he got wrong:


CLAIM: Sessions cited immigration-skeptic George Borjas, whose research claimed immigration leads to lowered wages for native workers. FACT: Borjas’ research, frequently cited by immigration restrictionists, has been superceded by many other studies. For one thing, it doesn’t account for the fact that the undocumented immigrants at issue in the reform bill are already in the labor force. For another, immigrants have a small, but positive effect on the wages of American workers. And even Borjas concedes that his empirical findings infer little about U.S. immigration policy (in fact, “nothing at all”), and more about what the U.S. wants to be as a country. In fact, he found that undocumented immigrants actually increase GDP. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) (which even addressed a personal letter to Sessions) has found that immigration reform like the approved Senate plan would be a benefit to the American economy.

CLAIM: The senator insisted in his op-ed that the public is against immigration reform by using a Rasmussen Poll. FACT: Rasmussen has a history of skewing its data to serve the political right. But other conservative outlets, like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and Fox News found that the majority of Americans support an earned pathway to citizenship. In fact, several polls found that likely 2014 voters in House Republican districts also support immigration reform.

CLAIM: Sessions alleged that poor people would suffer because there are “three unemployed people for every job available” and that one in five American households receives food stamps. FACT: Sessions hasn’t exactly been inclined to help those Americans anyway. As journalist Ezra Klein pointed out, Sessions voted against the American Jobs Act (a jobs creation bill), against long-term unemployment benefits, and against the Buffet rule (which raises taxes on the rich as a way to cut the deficit). He even added a (failed) amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill, which sought to cut $11 billion over ten years from the food stamp program.

Sessions is also not the first Republican to perpetuate fallacies as a way to condemn reform policies. In early January, 16 House Republicans wrote a harsh letter deriding immigration reform for permanently displacing American workers (and especially Black workers).