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Immigration

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, tomorrow we will continue the markup on the Gang of 8 immigration bill. They have been meeting with businesspeople and special interest groups trying to craft a piece of legislation they can agree to, that they think is good. They didn't have anybody representing mainstream America. They didn't have anyone representing the law enforcement community who would explain how this system ought to work. As a result, their bill doesn't have any kind of improvements in our law enforcement that would be effective.

I wanted to talk today, because we will be going into it tomorrow, about the fundamental question on the nature of our immigration; how much this country would be able to sustain in a healthy way for immigrants, as well as American workers.

I have been concerned for some time that the numbers are just too large. We are not able to effectively assimilate people in these large numbers. Significantly, we don't have sufficient jobs to allow us to employ them. As the bill stands now, it would have only a negative impact on American workers.

People say: You need to be positive, Sessions. We are growth oriented. We are just going to grow this economy, and there will be plenty of jobs out there. Be like Ronald Reagan, would you? Be sunny all the time. Don't talk negatively. Don't worry about this.

I am looking at some numbers, and I think it is wise for America to be prudent, smart, and careful, before we establish policies we can't sustain, before we establish policies that create more unemployment in America and damage our economy. That could happen.

I asked one of the sponsors of the bill, Senator Schumer, how many people would be admitted under the bill. Well, he wouldn't say.

I said: It looks like it might be 30 million; is that correct?

He said: No.

I said: Well, how many is it, Senator Schumer?

He didn't say. They have yet to say how many people would be admitted under the biggest change in immigration we have had since at least 1986, and really it is larger in its impact than 1986.

This is an odd thing. Frankly, we ought not to proceed another day in the Judiciary Committee until the sponsors of the bill--and their great advisers who have been meeting for months, aided by the administration and all the staffs they have in Homeland Security and the Department of Justice--can tell us how many people would be admitted. They don't do that, I think, fundamentally because they don't want us to know. They really don't want to acknowledge what a huge alteration in our policies this will have in terms of economics and so forth.

Let's think about it. Here are some of the things we know: We know 11 million people are here illegally--some say 12 million--and they would all be given a legal status. Virtually all would be given a legal status immediately.

They would then immediately be allowed to pursue any job they would like to take. They could go down and apply for the county government, the city government, trucking firms, coal mining companies, oil companies, any good job out there they would like to apply for. That is not happening now because many of them have no identification and aren't able to take anything other than jobs off the books. Some have estimated--supporters of the bill--that at least half of the people here illegally are working off the books in some form or fashion. These numbers are big. We have those numbers.

In addition, there is a plan over the next years to legalize 4.5 million additional individuals in the so-called backlog. They are really not backlogged in the sense the immigration service isn't processing their papers fast enough, they are backlogged because we had caps on how many in these categories could come in and people apply until they reach the number. Well, they would remove the caps on those. That would be another 4.5 million that would come in.

Then they have a future flow that we are working hard on to analyze with my staff. I don't have the entire immigration service. I don't have the immigration lawyers association. I don't have the chamber of commerce or Richard Trumka to come in and do all the work for me, but we think there will be quite a number of immigrants coming in the future.

The Los Angeles Times--and I will use their number; it seems to be the number others have come up with and may be in the ballpark--they have increased the annual flow by 50 percent. That would be a 50-percent increase. We are supposed to be at about 1 million a year now, and this would increase the legal flow by 50 percent. It could be considerably more.

So we estimate that something like 30 million people will be given legal status in the next 10 years, when, if the law were faithfully applied, there would be about 10 or 11 million over the next 10 years given legal status. Yes, of that 30 million, about 10 or so--10-plus--will be those who are already here, but many of those are really not effectively competing for jobs with the American worker, who by a large degree is out of work and needing a job.

First and foremost we are a nation of immigrants. We have always had a generous immigration policy. A million immigrants a year exceeds that of any other country in the world ever, and we are about to absorb a huge number of new people--15 million--and then we are going to increase the flow by 50 percent. So I am asking, can we handle this? That is all I am asking at this point on this subject, and we really should think about that. Don't we owe it to our workers to ask those questions?

Professor Borjas, at Harvard--himself an immigrant and the most serious student of immigration and wages and jobs in America, and he wrote a book on it a number of years ago and still writes papers in contributing to the debate--has demonstrated absolutely, through intense, high-level economic studies, that increases in workers produces reduced wages. Surprise--more workers reduces wages. It allows a business to find a worker without having to pay more money. They would be able to get more people to work for less, and they like that. That is great--for them.

My Democratic colleagues have been pointing out for a long time--and, sadly, there is too much truth in their complaints--that the average wage of the American worker since at least 2000--and some say as far back as 1970--has not kept up with inflation.

Profit is going pretty well for a lot of companies, but workers' salaries haven't even kept up with inflation, and our unemployment rate is exceedingly high today. That is a fact. Professor Borjas attributes a good bit of that to the immigration we have had over these years, which is at a level that, he said some years ago--and I remember when he wrote this--was higher than the country really ought to have then.

What is our current situation? Well, we looked at the analysis of the Congressional Budget Office in the budget study they present to Congress every year. And they work hard at this. Nobody knows the answers to all of these questions, but CBO's is as good and objective a number as one normally gets, and this is what they predict. They are predicting that what experts are saying is correct; that is, the economic growth in mature economies, such as the United States, Europe, and Japan, is not going to reach the peaks of growth we have had in some of the go-go eras of the past. Bill Gross, head of one of the biggest bond firms in the world--PIMCO--has called it a new normal. We are going to have lower growth. It will be steady, hopefully, but it is going to be lower and it will create fewer jobs. That is what the projections are for the future.

In February of this year, the CBO projected that job growth per month--the number of jobs employers expect to add to their workforce--in the second 5 years of their 10-year budget analysis, years 2019 through 2023, would average only 75,000 a month. Isn't that something? Hopefully we can do something better than that. This is a 10-year-plus plan of immigration policy from this Gang of 8. Have they talked to Mr. Elmendorf? Have they talked to anybody about how many jobs we are actually going to need, other than some of the Silicon Valley gurus, the chamber of commerce, some of the big agricultural industries, and some of those folks? Is that all the people they are talking to?

What about the Blue Chip forecast? This is a forecast that is watched very closely. They make forecasts on a lot of different issues. It is the average of 55 private economic forecasters. So what do the Blue Chippers say the growth will be? They say that there will be 2.8 percent growth between 2016 and 2019 and that will drop to only 2.5 percent between 2020 and 2024. In short, they agree with CBO that economic growth will slow down over the next 10 years and not really pick up from the slow growth we are in now to any significant degree.

A number of academic economists--Robert Gordon at Northwestern University and Tyler Cowen at George Mason--argue that the U.S. economy has entered a long period of slower economic growth that is not likely to improve dramatically anytime soon.

Today the Wall Street Journal published its latest survey of 52 economists, who predict steady but slow economic growth in the near term. Slow growth means slow job creation. It means job caution.

Here is what the Brookings Institution says:

Adjust for population growth, and it will take 9 more years to return to the prerecession level of unemployment at the current rate of growth.

That is a liberal think tank, and they are saying it is going to take 9 more years just to get the unemployment we have now down to a more normal historic level in the United States. At the same time, job participation, labor force participation is at a record low. Not since the 1970s, when not many women were working, have we gone that low. People are giving up on looking for work.

It was 2 months ago that we had 88,000 jobs created in this country in 1 month--88,000 people got employment--while 486,000 left the workforce. Imagine that. In 1 month we only created 88,000 jobs, while 486,000 left the workforce. We checked those numbers, and about one-fifth of those were retirements--I am sure some early, or at least earlier than they wanted, and they started drawing Social Security earlier than they intended to draw it because they couldn't find work--but a little less than 400,000, one-fifth, dropped out, gave up, couldn't find work. So that is troubling, and it is pulling down wages of American citizens who have lost their jobs and can't find good work.

The Labor Department reported earlier this month that 4.4 million Americans have been out of work for more than 27 weeks and that the broadest measure of unemployment--that includes part-time employment and other things--stands at 13.9 percent, which is very high.

So first, I would say, do we want to tell somebody to come to America, but we don't have a job for them or it will only be temporary, and then they will be laid off? We can't expect to be able to maintain a workforce.

There is no doubt that those who want large and ready supplies of labor and who don't want to have to pay more money or provide more benefits to get that labor are happy with the steady, large flow coming into the country. It might even make them have a little better profit. But Professor Borjas at Harvard makes clear that by maybe $1,600 a year--low-income people making $20,000 or so a year will have their wages brought down that much as a result of an influx of large amounts of low-skilled labor.

So it is not helpful to immigrants who came lawfully and who are looking for work and having their wages pulled down, and it is not helpful for our native born who are looking for work and can't get on that ladder of success where someone starts working as a carpenter's helper and one day ends up as a carpenter and then a foreman, and they have saved a little money and have a retirement plan and health care for their family. That is what we would like to see happen in America. So I am worried about those numbers.

Mr. President, we had a hearing--kind of hard to keep up with this, but I believe this was the hearing on high-tech workers--and I would like to highlight the testimony of Professor Ron Hira. He has written for the Economic Policy Institute, which is a liberal think tank. He has done an op-ed at BusinessWeek and has presented at the Brookings Institution and printed academic papers on this subject. He testified before our committee that he has been studying our high-skilled immigration policy for more than a decade.

Most of the people entering the country under the Gang of 8 bill will not be highly skilled. Most of them will not enter through the more merit-based point system we have heard about. It looks pretty clear that those entering on the point-based system, where there is some sort of competitive process--although an individual gets extra points if they have family connections--represent less than 10 percent of those who would be admitted under the legislation.

So this is what Mr. Hira says about the way our high-skilled immigration policy is being operated. He says the U.S. policy, as currently designed and administered, does more harm than good. To meet the needs of the U.S. economy and U.S. workers, our guest worker and permanent resident programs need immediate and substantial overhaul, and we don't have that kind of reform in this legislation. The principal goal of these programs is to bring in foreign workers who are supposed to complement American workers, making American workers more effective. But loopholes have made it too easy to bring in cheaper, foreign workers with ordinary skills who directly substitute rather than complement workers already in America.

We have all heard of this complementary idea--that we bring in foreign labor, and that helps American workers be more efficient and it will make everybody better. But according to Mr. Hira, the workers who are being brought in under the H-1B and similar programs--J-1, L-1--are not doing that. They are bringing in people through a loophole where they actually compete with Americans for jobs. He says many of these individuals have ordinary skills, and they substitute for American workers.

He also said that loopholes in these programs provide an unfair competitive advantage to companies that are specializing in offshore outsourcing, speeding up the process of shipping high-wage, high-tech American jobs overseas, which has disadvantaged companies in the United States that hire mainly American workers.

Essentially, as I understood his testimony, people would come from a foreign country. They live here and train and work here. Then they go back to their foreign country and set up a plant or business and the company, U.S. company, outsources the work, costing American jobs. He has done studies on this. This is not just a theory he came up with.

He further testified that the actual H-1B and L-1 visa use has become antithetical to policymakers' goals due to four fundamental flaws: The work permits are held by the employer, so basically these individuals come as indentured servants and are able to be controlled in a way that gives the employer the advantage over an American worker. No. 2, he says that the visa period is far too long for them to come and, in addition to the inherent design flaws, there is little oversight or enforcement on these programs. Nobody is watching them. According to Professor Hira, by closing H-1B and L-1 loopholes, Congress would create and retain tens of thousands of high-wage American jobs and ensure our labor market works fairly for American and foreign workers alike.

I am summarizing now. In his opinion, the following needs to be done: institute an effective labor market test--make sure we actually need these workers, pay workers true market wages--he asserts they are not being paid true market wages; limit the visa to a maximum of 3 years--for a lot of reasons I suggest that is very important--with no renewal. If they come for longer periods of time and they can renew and renew, then we end up with somebody who is married here, their children are in junior high school, maybe they are American citizens by now--and we are going to ask them to leave even though the law says for them to leave? It is not likely.

That is how 40 percent of the people here illegally have come to America. They have come legally but overstayed the visa they had.

We should eliminate access to additional H-1B and L-1 visas for any dependent firm. Those that are dependent on these programs to maintain their basic workforce, those are the ones who should get their numbers reduced, rather than getting more visas. We should shine a light on the process, institute sensible oversight, establish a clear single objective for the programs. Also other programs, he notes, are badly in need of an overhaul and are being used to circumvent the annual numerical limit on H-1Bs and the regulatory controls on the L-1 program.

Given the widespread use of H-1B and L-1 visas by offshore outsourcing firms--people who are truly moving jobs out of the United States--Congress should take affirmative steps to make clear that most guest worker programs and permanent residents are immigration issues, not trade and policy issues.

Finally, we heard over and over again from our good friends in Silicon Valley all the great things they have done. We are proud of them and they have been great for America. He talks about some of that. He contested the assertion by Mr. Brad Smith of Microsoft. Microsoft has been aggressive in pushing this program. He pushes back and contests the assertion that the United States does not have enough high-skilled workers. We have heard we don't have enough high-skilled workers. He says no. He studied it. According to Professor Hira, the unemployment rate for STEM graduates--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--is higher than that of regular college graduates.

Goodness. He noted that in the petroleum engineering field things have gone better. Wages have increased prompting an increase in the enrollment in such programs by American college students who almost exclusively have filled the petroleum engineering jobs. That is the way the system is supposed to work. Wages start going up, there is a shortage of petroleum engineers and workers, people start majoring in that, and they go out and find jobs. That is the way the system is supposed to work. This example, he says, shows that markets do work when they are allowed to work. But he said H-1B and L-1 programs are intervening in labor markets. With that privilege should come accountability.

I will conclude by saying I urge my colleagues, before we rush out and sign on to an immigration proposal that has all kinds of special interests and political interests, somebody has to question what it is doing to recent college graduates as well as low-skilled workers. The actual statistical data from experts indicate these workers are struggling today and many are unemployed and in much need of work.

The Civil Rights Commissioner, Abigail Thernstrom, also wrote a letter to the Commission and the Congress that said we don't have a shortage of low-skilled workers in America. We have a glut of them. We have more low-skilled workers looking for jobs than we have jobs. But to read the papers, one would think just the opposite; that we have this crisis with high unemployment, high numbers of people dropped out of the labor force, and we have to bring in more workers to do basic American work.

All I am saying is that immigration policy needs to allow the right flow to come into America. It needs to be faithfully enforced. It needs to serve the national interest, not the special interest. It needs to remember the dutiful workers out there who lawfully entered the country through immigration or native born, and their interests need to be protected in this process. I do not believe they are being protected properly.

I yield the floor.


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