5 Facts About Immigration Reform Sen. Jeff Sessions Got Wrong

CREDIT: sessions.senate.gov
CREDIT: sessions.senate.gov

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has been busy this week opposing Republican efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. On Monday, he authored an USA today op-ed, which likened any House Republican proposals to an “extraordinary act of self-sabotage.” On Tuesday, he “hand-delivered” a three-page memo to each member, deriding reform as bad policy, according to the conservative outlet Weekly Standard. And on Wednesday, Sessions provided dense reading material for House Republicans before they bussed over to their three day retreat at a Hyatt hotel in Maryland.

In the 30-page memo, Sessions urged his House Republican colleagues to abandon immigration reform, claiming that such legislation would increase future immigration flow and devastate American workers, wages, and the economy. His memo included “myths,” which he countered by using distorted data by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and partisan polling organizations, as well as research by an Harvard professor advocating for immigration restrictions. Here are some of the ways that Sessions is not presenting the full picture:

Data suggest immigration reform will lower, not raise, the flow of immigrants entering the country. Sessions insisted that the Senate plan, which has “now come to the House,” will triple immigration, based on a flawed calculation of the number of future immigrants. Yet that bill actually helps to clear the backlog of green cards and moves the process of “unauthorized entry into legal channels.” In reality, about 150,000 fewer people will enter the country each year under the Senate bill.

Average wages will likely rise due to immigration reform, not fall. Sessions misquoted the CBO score when he said, “per capita GNP, according to the CBO, will decline along with average wages.” The CBO analysis found that in the first decade, average American wages will fall by 0.1 percent, but this is due to new immigrants who enter the labor force and work at slightly lower wages. But as new immigrants and formerly undocumented immigrants find jobs that better suit their skills in the first decade, the average wages will then rise. And the CBO also stated that the “estimated reductions in average wages … do not necessarily imply that current U.S. residents would be worse off, on average, under the legislation than they would be under current law.”

Polls don’t show Americans oppose immigration reform. Sessions insisted that the American public is against immigration reform. according to polls by Rasmussen and other partisan outlets. Rasmussen has a history of skewing its data to serve the political right. But a host of other polls like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and Fox News have found that a majority of Americans support an earned pathway to citizenship, including voters in key Republican districts who “want a fix” to the “broken immigration system.” Several polls found that likely 2014 voters in House Republican districts also support immigration reform.

The restrictionist research cited by George Borjas has been superseded by many other studies. Borjas, the Harvard professor, whose research is cited in the memo, did find small, negative benefits to American workers due to reform. But Borjas’ work focused on the “simple story” of “national labor markets” in which immigrants “increased the supply of labor and therefore reduced the wages of similarly skilled native-born Americans.” But other economists argued that “the national-level studies did not recognize that immigrants were not directly competing with many native-born workers because immigrants provided a different kind of labor than native-born Americans. This group of economists focused on studying regional labor markets to prove their point.” What’s more, a supplemental CBO report found that unemployment would not rise since the economic growth from reform would help create millions of new jobs across the nation.

Immigrants will likely add more than they withdraw from the Social Security Trust Fund. Sessions claimed that immigrants will “[draw] out more than they will have paid in over time” to the Social Security Trust Fund. By 2024, immigration reform would add a net $284 billion to the Social Security trust fund. Over the next 36 years, studies show that undocumented immigrants would add a net $606 billion to the trust fund — during the same period that baby boomers will be retiring and drawing benefits. That will help fund a lifetime of retirement benefits for 2.4 million Americans.