I was among those begging Jeff Sessions not to take a position in the Trump cabinet. For sure, he will be among the finest Attorneys General in our nation's history, but I feared his departure from the Senate would leave a leadership vacuum, with no forceful, knowledgeable immigration skeptic to push back against the McCain/Schumer expansionists.
Fear not: Tom Cotton has reported for duty.
His op-ed in the New York Times today hits all the right themes, without rancor but also without the pussyfooting so common on this issue. He's been critiquing mass immigration for some time now, and without the "legal good/illegal bad" fallacy put forth by so many Republicans, whose calls for tough border enforcement are accompanied by support for huge increases in immigration.
Sen. Cotton's second sentence gets right to the point: "President-elect Trump now has a clear mandate not only to stop illegal immigration, but also to finally cut the generation-long influx of low-skilled immigrants that undermines American workers." In response to the complaints of business lobbyists that less immigration "will force employers to add benefits and improve workplace conditions to attract and keep workers already here", Cotton answers: "Exactly."
Higher wages, better benefits and more security for American workers are features, not bugs, of sound immigration reform. For too long, our immigration policy has skewed toward the interests of the wealthy and powerful: Employers get cheaper labor, and professionals get cheaper personal services like housekeeping. We now need an immigration policy that focuses less on the most powerful and more on everyone else.
Nor is he simply following the lead of some Republicans, like Sen. Rubio, who support the current high level of immigration, but want a reallocation away from cheap labor for fast-food restaurants toward cheap labor for tech firms. Instead Sen. Cotton prefaces his desire for "a reorientation toward ultra-high-skill immigrants" with a call for "a large reduction in legal immigration".
Sen. Cotton's emphasis on helping American (and previous immigrant) workers is important, not just politically and as policy, but morally as well. In the heated debate over immigration, as business lobbyists, libertarians, and leftists spew contempt for Americans as fat, lazy, and stupid, immigration skeptics sometimes respond in kind about immigrants.
But the problem we face is not the personal qualities of immigrants, but mass immigration itself. Of course, some immigrants are criminals and a few are terrorists. And reducing immigration is essential to shrinking the sea within which the criminals and terrorists swim, so law enforcement is better able to keep them out or, if they're already here, to find and expel them.
But most immigrants are just ordinary schmoes trying to make ends meet, like the rest of us. Even if every immigrant were legal, and every one of last year's million legal immigrants were a saint, mass immigration would still be bad policy. By leading with the effect on American workers – while not necessarily neglecting the concerns about crime, security, welfare, assimilation, etc. – Sen. Cotton is sending the important message that the problem is mass immigration as policy, not immigrants as people.
The op-ed concludes: "But in this election, Americans finally demanded an end to this unthinking immigration system. President-elect Trump and Congress should take that mandate and act on it promptly in the new year." It's good news that Sen. Cotton will be a leading voice in that process.