GOP Senators Hope to Sneak Amnesty into Trump’s Popular Immigration Reforms

Lindsey Graham, Thom Tillis

Business advocates who want to import more foreign consumers and more foreign workers are developing plans to counter President Donald Trump’s popular call for a merit-based immigration reform. 

The emerging strategy is to pair offers of minor concessions to Americans and Trump with demands for giveaways to business, including a bigger supply of low-wage workers and welfare-funded consumers. The immigration “pairing” strategy is being pushed by the industry-backed Business Policy Council, in cooperation with GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.

The strategy collides with Trump’s emphasis on raising Americans’ wages via “merit-based immigration,” which is also backed by a new productivity-boosting immigration drafted by two GOP Senators, David Perdue and Tom Cotton. “Real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” Trump told Congress February 28. 

The business push for “pairing” creates a risk for the many Americans worried about cheap-labor migration, said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. President Trump “has the potential to be taken to the cleaners by [Sen.] Chuck Schumer because [immigraton] is something he doesn’t know anything about…  hopefully [Steve] Bannon and [Stephen] Miller will prevent this from happening.”

Tillis and lobbyists at the BPC described their emerging “pairing” strategy at a recent press event

“We have to have border security,” Tillis said in a conversation with Haley Barbour, the co-chair of the BPC’s immigration advocacy task force, who also runs a lobbying firm, the BGR Group. Tillis continued: 

To me, it is absolutely essential [border security] be one of the first measures that we pass. Now the question is what can we pair with it that will start creating some sort of consensus going … around a series of other things that we can talk about, but we are not going to put in the [first] bill because if it gets too convoluted, if it becomes too comprehensive, than it starts falling apart.

In 2013, business groups allied with Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer to push a huge “comprehensive immigration reform” bill that provided amnesty and a huge flow of new migrants and workers. Schumer’s “Gang of Eight” bill was defeated because House Speaker John Boehner stalled business groups until public opposition became undeniable. 

“Think about [pairing] DACA [President Barack Obama’s 2012 mini-amnesty for young illegals] with border security…. Think about [pairing more] work visas with E-Verify and other enforcement actions against employers,” Tillis said. E-Verify is a federal website that can help screen out illegal during job interviews. However, business lobbying has persuaded Congress to keep the use of E-Verify system voluntary, not mandatory. 

E-Verify is a federal website that helps employers identify illegal aliens seeking jobs. However, business lobbying has persuaded Congress to keep the use of E-Verify system voluntary, not mandatory. 

Tillis also dismissed Trump’s election-winning promise of a border wall, by suggesting that Congress deny funds for construction of a wall or fence along stretches of the border in favor of “other capabilities.” Border security, he said,  “is one of the first things we need to do…  [but] it seems to me we could get to a reasonable compromise on a bill that I think will be less costly and more effective than just the concept of a structure. Walls need to be where wall are, but other capabilities need to be elsewhere.”

Barbour and other BPC officials pushed the “pairing” strategy throughout the press event.  “The idea of pairing… makes a lot of sense,” said Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. Chertoff is the co-chair of the BPC’s Immigration Task Force.

Tillis’ office did not respond to Breitbart’s emails. Barbour declined an interview request.

Tillis’s policy goals are shaped by the needs of North Carolina’s agriculture industry, which continues to rely on cheap labor for harvesting crops, instead of developing high-productivity crop harvesting machines.

But he is also indirectly backed by his political neighbor, South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly helped his state’s tourism and golfing resorts bring in wage-cutting foreign workers instead of raising wages to hire Americans. In a March 15 interview with Bloomberg, Graham echoed Barbour’s pairing strategy, saying:

The first one would combine ramped-up enforcement, starting with “the bad dudes,” and the legalization of [DACA] illegal immigrants who came here as minors. Republicans are open to that legalization, he said, and it “would be hard for Democrats to say no to securing the border and helping these 800,000 kids have a better life.”

The second one would legalize adult illegal immigrants working in agriculture and tourism, and at the same time require employers to use the e-verify program to make sure all new hires are legal workers.

Third, Graham would legalize those remaining illegal immigrants who passed a background check and paid a fine. In return he wants to shift legal immigration toward recruiting people with high skills rather than reuniting extended families. “The immigration system of the future would be merit-based,” he says.

In late 2012, Graham played a key role with Schumer in launching the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration bill. 

The “pairing” deals sketched by Barbour, Tillis and Graham would allow a border wall plus an amnesty and the expanded work-permit program, which would give Democrats the future voters they want and also give business groups the new inflow of taxpayer-supported customers and wage-cutting white-collar workers that they want. That endless inflow of new workers would make it more difficult for white-collar and blue-collar Americans to win higher salaries as the economy expands. 

During the 2016 election campaign, Trump promised to pass a pro-American immigration reform law. “The fundamental problem with the immigration system in our country is that it serves the needs of wealthy donors, political activists, and powerful, powerful politicians … It does not serve you, the American people,” he said. 

“When politicians talk about immigration reform, they usually mean the following, amnesty, open borders, lower wages … [but] it should mean improvements to our laws and policies to make life better for American citizens,” Trump said on August 31, adding:

We have to listen to the concerns that working people, our forgotten working people, have over the record pace of immigration and it’s impact on their jobs, wages, housing, schools, tax bills and general living conditions…

While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, many, many, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they can ever possibly pay back. And they’re hurting a lot of our people that cannot get jobs under any circumstances …

The basic problem for reformers is that they “have to get eight Democratic Senators to vote” for a reform, Krikorian said. The offer of a DACA amnesty “might be enough to get eight of those Democrats from Trump-voting states to go along with E-Verify and legal immigration [reform]” which would end the wage-cutting chain immigration of unskilled family relatives, he said. “That would be a good deal,” Krikorian added.

“The worst case is [legislators] legalize the DACAs in exchange for some phony-baloney border bill that they don’t need,” because Congress has already authorized construction of the wall, said Krikorian.

In his February 28 speech to Congress,  Trump outlined his “merit-based” immigration reform, which would emphasize skilled immigration of college graduates, and likely lower the annual “family chain” inflow of roughly 800,0000 unskilled relatives of recent immigrants.

Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others –- have a merit-based immigration system.  It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially.  Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.

Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits:  it will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families –- including immigrant families –- enter the middle class.

I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.

Trump did not say his plan would exclude amnesty or lower the annual inflow of immigrants — but immigration reformers, such as Krikorian, say they would be willing to accept a congressional amnesty if the deal also lowered the annual inflow of legal immigrants which forces down wages and consumer welfare spending.

Under the current cheap-labor economic strategy, the federal government does not repatriate the 11 million illegals, and it grants citizenship to roughly 1 million foreigners per year, mostly to the family relatives of prior unskilled immigrants. Only about one-in-five new immigrants have college degrees. Immigrants without college degrees tend to receive more in welfare and aid payments than they return in federal, state and local taxes. That inflow lowers salaries and wages, which boosts investors’ income by roughly $500 billion per year, according to a Harvard analysis.

The U.S. government also provides temporary work permits to roughly 1 million foreign contract workers, creating a population of roughly 1.4 million temporary white-collar foreign workers in the United States. Tillis and 30 other Senators recently called for agencies to not waste any of the 66,000 H-2B worker visas which companies use to hire foreign workers instead of American workers. 

In contrast, Trump has called for pro-American reforms of the contract-worker programs. “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program,” Trump said in a March 2016 statement. “No exceptions,” he added.

Each year, four million Americans enter the workforce and are required to compete for good jobs against the two million new immigrants and temporary workers.

Tillis, however, is focused on pushing his pro-business “pairing” strategy. “We know most of the solutions, we have to figure out … how to silence the voices at either end of the political spectrum that are the reason we haven’t been successful in the past, and solve the problem,” Tillis told the business lobbyists at the March 2 meeting.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.