Senator Jeff Sessions is Simply Wrongheaded On Immigration

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearings for the Attorney General position have centered on race relations and immigration reform. While the senator has resisted barbs that he is racially insensitive, he has not disputed similar claims that he is antagonistic to immigrant rights. Indeed, in the past Sessions has used the purported negative impact of both legal and illegal immigration as the basis for his views.1 According to the good senator, the undocumented hurt our national economy, and thus immigration as a whole must be curbed. However, the actual research on the economic impact of undocumented immigration is in fact the opposite of what the senator has repeatedly claimed. A sad and more sobering fact is that reporters and other decision-makers have simply accepted Sessions', and similar tales of woe, as Gospel. Thus, neither reporters nor politicians ever seem to challenge the claims of the leader of the anti-immigrant lobby. Well, at least until now.

Senator Sessions as well as the cadre of conservative talk radio hosts, pundits, pseudo-politicians, and even the so-called "Average Joes" that have adopted the new anti-immigrant narrative simply fail to understand the true value of immigrants in our society. The inevitable visceral response to this last claim is that it is some sort of "fake news," or the author must be some sort of anti-American bleeding heart that merely favors hoards of outsiders invading this country. Here too, the ill informed are sadly mistaken. Indeed, the conclusion here that undocumented actually provide significant gains to our economy comes not from some politically motivated agenda, but from studies from all sectors of the national political spectrum 2 --in fact, the exhaustive empirical research on the matter comes from volumes of reports by the federal government mandated by a Republican President,3 studies by the conservative/libertarian CATO Institute,4 and by reports by the Immigration Policy Institute.5 For instance, the most comprehensive examination of these issues stems from the National Research Council, which convened a panel of demographers, economists, and sociologists at the request of Congress's bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform. It concluded, "undocumented immigrants provide a net positive fiscal impact with immigrants and their concurrent descendants paying nearly $51 billion [in 1994-1995 dollars] more in taxes than they generate in costs."6 The conservative Cato Institute for its part issued a report "Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform," and concluded " legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.7 Similarly, a 2010 study by the pro-immigrant Immigration Policy Institute, concluded "illegal immigration has been hugely beneficial to many U.S. employers, often providing benefits that the current legal immigration system does not. . . . Not only do unauthorized immigrants provide an important source of low-skilled labor, they also respond to market conditions in ways that legal immigration presently cannot, making them particularly appealing to U.S. employers."8

Thus, the leading studies on the matter, which come from the federal government, a conservative think tank, and a pro-immigrant think tank, repeatedly and unequivocally conclude undocumented immigrants actually provide significant gains to our national economy. Thus, despite the dominant anti-immigrant narrative, which is made by the politician that may very well be the next U.S. Attorney General, is simply inaccurate. Therefore, the misguided and factually flawed anti-immigrant discourse concerning the negative impact of undocumented immigrants that thus far has gone unchecked must be rectified if this sort of unfounded demagoguery is finally going to be laid to rest. In its place, the consequential issue of immigrant rights and reform must be addressed in an informed and thoughtful manner.

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1. Jeff Sessions: The U.S. "Economy Cannot Sustain' Lawful Immigration Rates," available at http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/03/16/jeff-sessions-u-s-economy-cannot-sustain-current-lawful-immigration-rates/

2. For a comprehensive examination of the studies on the economic impact of undocumented immigrants, see Ediberto Roman, THOSE DAMNED IMMIGRANTS: AMERICA'S HYSTERIA OVER UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRATION (NYU PRESS 2013).

3. National Research Council, The Immigration Debate: Studies on the Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, ed. James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, Panel on the Demographic and Economic Impacts of Immigration (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1998), 10.

4. Daniel Griswold, "Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Finally Getting It Right," Center for Free Trade Policy Studies, May 16, 2007, http://www.cato.org/pubs/ftb/FTB-029.pdf ; Peter B. Dixon and Maureen T. Rimmer, "Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform," CATO Institute, Center for Trade Policy Studies, no. 40, August 13, 2009, 1, http://www.cato.org/pubs/tpa/tpa-040.pdf. ; 66. Peter B. Dixon, Martin Johnson, and Maureen T. Rimmer, "Economy-Wide Effects of Reducing Illegal Immigrants in U.S. Employment," Contemporary Economic Policy 29, no. 1 (2011):14; Peter B. Dixon, Maureen T. Rimmer, and Martin Johnson, "Reducing Illegal Migrants in the U.S.: A Dynamic CGE Analysis," Centre of Policy Studies and the Impact Project, General Paper No. G-183, July 2008, 28, http://www.monash.edu.au/policy/ftp/workpapr/g-183.pdf.

5. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, "Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," (Immigration Policy Center, Center for American Progress, January 2010), http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/immigrationeconreport3.pdf; at p. 1.

6. National Research Council, The Immigration Debate: Studies on the Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, ed. James P. Smith and Barry Edmonston, Panel on the Demographic and Economic Impacts of Immigration (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1998), 194.

7. Peter B. Dixon and Maureen T. Rimmer, "Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform," CATO Institute, Center for Trade Policy Studies, no. 40, August 13, 2009, 1, http://www.cato.org/pubs/tpa/tpa-040.pdf. ; 66.

8. Gordon H. Hanson, "The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States," Migration Policy Institute, 2009, 4, http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/Hanson-Dec09.pdf.