If we want to make immigration great again, let's make it bipartisan

If we want to make immigration great again, let's make it bipartisan
© Getty Images

Last week, a 1994 video surfaced of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi Democratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals Grassley: Kavanaugh classmate didn't contact Senate panel MORE (D-Calif.) discussing the need for border security and the damaging fiscal impact that illegal immigration was having on California. A similar 2003 audio recording reveals that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGiuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it Sanders hits 1 million donors Democrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas MORE was “adamantly opposed to illegal immigrants” because they undercut American workers.

President Clinton, along with most congressional Democrats in the late 1990s, acknowledged the failure of our legal immigration policy to effectively advance any national interests when they endorsed the findings of a bipartisan commission chaired by the late Barbara Jordan that called for a merit-based immigration system and substantial reductions in immigration.

In other words, it was not all that long ago that the sort of immigration reform positions that helped Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE get elected were about as mainstream as mainstream gets. They need to be again.


Enter Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), the congressman who effectively killed the “Gang of Eight” mass amnesty bill (before he was even a congressman) by defeating House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington MORE in a primary election. Brat has effectively crafted a legislative proposal that leading Democrats supported, before their party succumbed to the demands of a radical political fringe that relegated them to a minority party in Washington and  most  state governments.


Brat’s American Labor, Wages, and Sovereignty Act (American LAWS Act), combines three much-needed policy provisions to finally fix the challenges facing our immigration system. But the biggest challenge is for both parties to muster the political courage to stare down small, but powerful elements within their ranks. The Democrats would need to bring its far left fringe to heel, while Brat’s own party would need to stand up to powerful business interests that demand access to low-wage immigrant labor.

First, Brat’s legislation would open up millions of jobs for unemployed Americans by requiring employers to use the E-Verify system. With more than 11 million illegal aliens already in the U.S., and tens of thousands more unlawfully crossing the border and overstaying visas each year, there is an unfair burden placed upon the American worker. The lack of a mandatory employment verification process dramatically increases competition in the labor market, particularly for low-skilled jobs, and depresses wages by perpetuating a class of workers willing to work for substandard wages. Requiring employers to use E-Verify would protect American workers against unfair job competition and wage depression while removing the main incentive to enter the U.S. illegally. 

Second, the bill would stem the unlimited flow of immigration by ending chain migration. Under our current immigration system, most immigrants receive a green card simply because they are the relative of another recent immigrant, not because of what they can contribute to American society. This creates a “chain” of immigrants who can then sponsor more immigrants in the same manner. Simply put, chain migration doesn’t serve any identifiable public interests. As the primary source of low-skilled legal immigration into the U.S., chain migration has depressed wages and job opportunities for comparably skilled American workers.

Finally, the American LAWS Act eliminates the need for hare-brained gimmicks intended to paper over the failures of our immigration policy, but only make things worse. The bill would repeal the visa lottery, which was sold as a way to create immigration opportunities for those shut out by the institutionalized nepotism of family chain migration. 

Every year, through a computer-generated random drawing, the visa lottery selects 50,000 foreign nationals for permanent residence in the United States. Most have no special skills, and limited education. The lottery program’s low qualifying standards (only a high school education or equivalent or two years of qualifying work experience) mean there are no guarantees that lottery winners can contribute to our economy, and no guarantee they will not undercut or replace American workers. Even worse, the lottery is a proven national security risk. Several weeks ago, an Uzbek visa lottery winner killed eight people and injured 11 others in a terrorist attack in New York City.

None of these elements are controversial. There is bipartisan agreement that employers should not be allowed to undercut American workers by hiring illegal aliens. There is bipartisan agreement that family chain migration is not just unfair, but bad public policy. And there is bipartisan agreement that allowing a computer to select 50,000 random people to settle here is, at best, irrational.

There are other elements to immigration reform where the public and political consensus is not so clear. But in a city where almost none of the people’s business ever seems to get done, why not start with true immigration reforms that have broad public support and, at least in recent memory, bipartisan support?

RJ Hauman is the director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit group aimed at promoting legal immigration.