With less than 48 hours before polls open for the Republican Senate primary in Nebraska, immigration has emerged as an issue of newfound importance in the race after former State Treasurer Shane Osborn signed a pledge from an anti-amnesty group and urged his opponent, university president Ben Sasse, to follow suit.
The pledge, from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), asks candidates to vow to oppose amnesty, increases in legal immigration, and increases in the number of guest workers.
Osborn, who is behind Sasse in the polls, signed the pledge Friday, saying he is a “proven conservative” on the issue and touting the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who heads a sister organization of FAIR.
“There is only one proven conservative on the immigration issue seeking the U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska and it is Shane Osborn. It is evidenced by Osborn’s willingness to sign a pledge against amnesty and the support he has received from Kris Kobach,” Bill Novoty, Osborn’s campaign manager, said in a statement.
Sasse said he’s still reviewing the pledge and has reached out to FAIR for a briefing about it. But in a statement articulating his views on immigration, he suggested that the pledge’s plank on opposing increases in legal immigration may not align with his beliefs.
“I oppose amnesty and a path to citizenship or voting for those who have come into our country illegally. You cannot make a deal with President Obama: He refuses to enforce laws already on the books. I firmly believe Washington cannot address immigration policy until the border has been secured,” Sasse said.
“However, once the border has been secured, we can discuss incremental, step-by-step reforms to fix our immigration process — including skills-based visas — for those who are following the rules and want to earn their shot at the American dream. But true reform should focus on fixing a broken system, not creating a permanent voting block to turn red states blue,” he added.
Amnesty, which means legal forgiveness for a class of people who broke the law, in this case by crossing the border illegally, has long-been the most incendiary part of the immigration debate. The word amnesty itself is toxic enough that lawmakers supporting immigration bills that would grant legal status to illegal aliens often go to great lengths to argue their proposals aren’t “amnesty.”
But the legal immigration rate has emerged as a secondary issue as key amnesty opponents, led by Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, have argued that bringing in new immigrants depresses the wages for American workers, even in high-skill sectors like technology.
Last week, when the Obama administration released new rules to loosen requirements on highly skilled visa holders, Sessions said “this will help corporations by further flooding a slack labor market, pulling down wages. It is good news for citizens in other countries who will be hired. But for struggling Americans, it will only reduce wages, lower job opportunities, and make it harder to scrape by.”
Other Republicans, and many economists, argue that bringing such workers into the U.S. labor pool increases the total economy’s output, which in their view offsets the negative impact on some workers’ wages.
In March, the House Judiciary Committee reported a bill to increase the number of visas for highly-skilled workers. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would increase the U.S. population by about 1 million people between 2014-2024 and another 1 million people between 2024-2034. The budget office said this would increase tax revenues by $118 billion over the first decade because of the population increase.