Immigration reform will make matters worse for an already damaged economy, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) said on Thursday.
The advocacy group "Americans 4 Work" held a panel event at the National Press Club with Sessions, former Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.), and Temple University Law Professor Jan Ting,to discuss immigration policy as it relates to the economy.
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"If you don’t have 2 percent growth you’re not creating jobs," he said. "We don’t have a tight labor market, we’ve got a loose labor market. Wages are declining. The number of people dropping out of the workforce is stunning. It is not a healthy trend."
"It simply makes no sense whatsoever to bring in more workers and demand more workers for America when we’re keeping large numbers of Americans unemployed for extended periods of time funded by the taxpayer through government programs," Sessions said.
There are 80 means-tested welfare programs that spend $750 billion each year. Rather than create a cycle of dependency, Sessions said more emphasis should be placed on job training, similar to welfare reform in 1996 where the "welfare office became the employment office."
"We’re going in the wrong direction, and it comes to the fundamental question: are we going to promote an opportunity society, or are we going to promote a dependency society?" said West. "What is the problem if we head down this road? You’re going to have more Detroits."
According to the latest jobs report, 11.3 million people are unemployed, and the unemployment rates for post 9/11-era veterans (10 percent), teenagers (22.2 percent), and African American teens (36 percent) remain high.
Experts say comprehensive immigration reform would compound the problem by adding 30 million additional immigrants to the United States over the next decade.
"One thing we can all agree on is don’t make it worse," said Ting, a former assistant commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Don’t make it worse than it already is."
"If you wanted to make it worse you could add additional immigrant workers to the legal labor pool," he said. "That would make it worse. You could triple immigration over the next three years, over the already high level that it’s at now. That would make it worse for American workers who are laboring in jobs that don’t pay well, and contributing to an enormous crisis in the future."
"[The Senate immigration] bill has been stopped in the Congress but it’s not going away," Ting said. "I think people need to wake up that we’re in the midst of a jobs crisis."
Though it is not likely the House will take up immigration reform before the end of the year, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) said Thursday immigration reform is "absolutely not" dead.
President Obama is also not giving up, enlisting top CEOs from McDonalds, Marriott, and others to lobby for immigration reform earlier this month.
Sessions blasted big businesses pushing for amnesty as not sharing the interests of American workers.
"These business people do not get to set the policy for the United States of America," he said. "They don’t represent the United States of America, they represent their special interest."
"I respect that, I know who they represent," Sessions said. "But I know who I represent. I represent 4 million Alabamians, and really, 300 million Americans."