Government & Politics

Tom Cotton Takes on Immigration — Illegal AND Legal

The senator's primary concerns are Rule of Law and American workers.

Arnold Ahlert · Jan. 9, 2017

In a straightforward New York Times op-ed column, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) made it clear that Donald Trump intends to make our immigration system work for the people most affected by the current chaos. “For too long, our immigration policy has skewed toward the interests of the wealthy and powerful: Employers get cheaper labor, and professionals get cheaper personal services like housekeeping,” Cotton states. “We now need an immigration policy that focuses less on the most powerful and more on everyone else.”

Cotton makes it clear that both illegal and legal immigration are part of the reform mix, noting that Trump “has a clear mandate not only to stop illegal immigration, but also to finally cut the generation-long influx of low-skilled immigrants that undermines American workers.”

There is a tepid move toward accommodating the new reality. Last Wednesday, co-sponsors Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced the “Protect and Grow American Jobs Act,” aimed at revamping the H-1B visa system American corporations have used to hire foreign workers willing to work for lower wages than their American counterparts.

The new proposal addresses a loophole created by Congress in 1998 when it simultaneously approved a visa cap increase, but prohibited American worker displacement if a firm employed 15% or more foreign workers. Congress also required companies to show “good faith” effort to hire American workers. But the bill undercut that effort: if a visa-holding foreign worker had a master’s degree, or was paid at least $60,000, he could replace an American employee. Issa’s bill raises the pay threshold to $100,000 indexed to inflation, and eliminates the master’s degree exemption completely.

The tepid aspect? There are three levels of H1-B workers, ranging from level 1 beginners to the level 3 prevailing wage earners this bill addresses. Yet those level 3 workers represent the 50th percentile of all workers — meaning plenty of the low-skill, low-wage workers Cotton wants to rein in remain unaffected by the legislation. During his campaign, Trump promised to take on companies “importing low-wage workers on H-1B visas to take jobs from young college-trained Americans.”

So what’s going on? Issa, et al, represent those interested in the appearance of H-1B visa reform. Trump wants genuine reform. How this ultimately plays out will be a great indication of who will prevail in a power struggle between Republicans who remain beholden to the wealthy and powerful, and a president-elect who has promised to drain the swamp and put Americans first.

Bet on Trump for the simplest of reasons: millions of Americans are fed up with the odious status quo, and this is his signature issue. He is not about to jeopardize his standing among the public to accommodate the Ruling Class aspirations of either party.

Cotton eviscerates that segment of the GOP and their industry allies who bemoan the shortage of low-skilled labor, and insist the problem can only be solved with immigrants. “These same industries contend that stricter immigration enforcement will further shrink the pool of workers and raise their wages,” Cotton states. “They argue that closing our borders to inexpensive foreign labor will force employers to add benefits and improve workplace conditions to attract and keep workers already here. I have an answer to these charges: Exactly.”

It’s critical to note that, for far too long, the game being played in Washington, DC, has been about tradeoffs. As columnist Mark Krikorian so aptly explains, the GOP has used the “‘legal good/illegal bad’ fallacy” to champion a faux reform consisting of tough border enforcement “accompanied by support for huge increases in immigration.”

Why? Americans have heard it all before. Low-skill legal and illegal immigrants are purportedly doing the jobs “Americans refuse to do” which is partially true, and legal, higher skill immigrants are alleviating a shortage of American STEM workers, which is a bold-faced lie.

With regard to the former assertion, one suspects a substantial majority of Americans would abide a pecking order consisting of hiring Americans who won’t refuse any job, followed by able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) being required to work as a condition of getting their welfare state benefits, with legal immigrants picking up the slack. With regard to the last group, putting some genuine teeth in Issa’s bill would be a great place to start.

In Obama’s final State of the Union address, he insisted that low-skill immigration doesn’t depress wages, but that such wage depression is about board-room decisions that elevate quarterly earnings above long term concerns.

Cotton also addresses this ridiculous assertion, rightfully countering that such decisions are possible “only in the context of a labor surplus caused by low-skilled immigration … because the law of supply and demand is not magically suspended in the labor market. As immigrant labor has flooded the country, working-class wages have collapsed.” He concedes automation and globalism is part of the mix, but nonetheless insists that “mass immigration accelerates these trends with surplus labor, which of course decreases wages.”

Cotton excoriates those who behave as if the election never happened, but he demonstrates a bit of naïveté when he wonders why politicians would embrace short-term business interests over the long-term national interest.

Memo to Sen. Cotton: because they could get away with it. Plenty of Republicans were elected during the 2010 and 2014 mid-term sweeps generated by anti-Obama administration passions. GOP politicians were long on promises when they were running — and woefully short on delivery once they were elected.

Perhaps some Republicans are getting the message that things have changed. Several GOP congressmen are on board with Trump’s wall along the Southwest border.

Spending money on that wall has leftists — with a newly discovered appetite for fiscal discipline — worried about the potential $16 billion cost. A 2013 report from Federation for American Immigration Reform states illegal immigration costs taxpayers $113 billion per year. Even if it’s half that amount, the wall — or whatever the ultimate deterrent becomes — is a great long-term investment.

“Our country, like any country, needs borders and must decide who and how many can cross those borders,” Cotton explains. “We must make this decision with the well-being of all our citizens in mind. Today, that means a large reduction in legal immigration and a reorientation toward ultra-high-skill immigrants.”

Unsurprisingly, Democrats will reflexively fight all of it, because their quest for unassailable power depends on massive levels of immigration by foreigners who heavily favor big government. Thus Trump and the GOP should expect the usual accusations of racism, xenophobia and heartlessness arising from the Democrat/Leftmedia complex.

Ignore them. From 1965 to the present, America abided a legal immigration policy that benefited the immigrant, not our nation. It also abided a virtual free-for-all with regard to illegals.

Putting America first isn’t racist, xenophobic or heartless. It’s common sense patriotism, and it’s about time that mindset had unabashed support from the White House and Congress, especially the GOP majority. If not? Bet on the 2018 mid-terms being another “drain the swamp” election — for recalcitrant GOPers.

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