Immigration Newsmaker Transcript: A Conversation with Senator Tom Cotton

A look at immigration policymaking in Congress

By Sen. Tom Cotton and Mark Krikorian on July 31, 2019


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Event Summary

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was featured in an Immigration Newsmaker conversation hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies on Tuesday, July 30, at 7:30 a.m. at the National Press Club.

Sen. Cotton has been a strong advocate for border and interior enforcement, speaking often about the dangers of the cartels that smuggle narcotics across the southern border and the growth of violent gangs, such as MS-13. The Senator has sponsored a number of important immigration bills, including the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act (RAISE Act), which modernizes our immigration system to attract more high-skilled workers and protects the jobs and wages of American workers.

Introduction and Moderator

Mark Krikorian
Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies


Senator Tom Cotton

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. And we’ve done a series of interviews with important players on the immigration issue, whether in Congress or in the administration.

And this morning’s guest is Senator Cotton, the junior senator from Arkansas. Senator Cotton is a Harvard Law grad, served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s on several committees, banking, intelligence, armed services. But obviously what we’re going to talk about today is immigration. He’s been a leader in the immigration issue, even before the president kind of raised its profile. And so I appreciate, Senator, your coming in and giving us some time. He’s going to have to bolt for a meeting on the Hill, so we’ll cut this off at 8:15.

My first question is you’re, as I understand, a sixth-generation Arkansan. Arkansas has been attracting more immigrants than it used to, but it’s clearly not an immigration state. It’s not one of the leading immigration states. What is it that attracted you to get involved on this issue and become really something of a thought leader and a debate leader?

SENATOR TOM COTTON (R-Ark.) : Well, Mark, first of all, thanks for having me this morning. And thanks for the Center for Immigration Studies for hosting this conversation, and also for all the very important work the Center does on immigration.

You know, immigration is a central issue for the United States, really for a lot of countries around the world. It touches on so many concerns that Arkansans have about prosperity, security, community. I remember before I was in politics, you know, when I was in the Army, Congress trying to pass, in my opinion, deeply misguided laws in 2006 and 2007. In fact, 2007 was probably the only time I’ve written to my members of Congress, asking them to oppose that terrible immigration bill. So it was an issue of personal interest to me, because it is an issue of such great import to our country, especially a country like America that is ultimately, as FDR said, founded on immigrants and the descendants of immigrants, not a country whose origins are lost in the mists of time.

And since I’ve been in Congress it’s been a primary focus of mine as well. One of my main accomplishments in my two years in the House of Representatives was to stop that dreaded immigration bill in 2013 in its tracks.

MR. KRIKORIAN: The Gang of Eight bill?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, after it had passed in the Senate, about this time of year, right before the 4th of July week back home, and then through the month of July, to try to bring to light just how flawed that bill was, just what a terrible impact it would have on American workers and families and communities. And to keep it stopped, because the forces behind that bill never seemed to quite give up. And since I’ve come to the Senate, I’ve tried to focus as well on reforming other aspects of our immigration system – like with my legislation that would revamp our legal immigration towards one focused more on high-skilled workers and away from mere extended families and random lotteries, and other matters like that. So it’s an issue about which I’m personally passionate. And it matters to Arkansans. And I think it matters deeply to most Americans.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And that’s the next question I wanted to ask was about your legislation, the RAISE Act. Now, you – as you described, you’ve been interested in immigration before it was cool, as it were. In other words, it’s – the president’s obviously made it a high-profile issue, but you were working on this before that was an issue. And you were one of the authors and co-sponsors of the RAISE Act. And it was reintroduced this year. And that bill, not to go into a lot of detail – you obviously know what it’s about – but the point is it would move immigration away from family connections, get rid of some of the chain migration categories.

But it would have a reduction in immigration. Probably not as much as some people said. Some people were talking about half, a 50 percent reduction. It probably wouldn’t have done that. But it would have been a significant reduction in immigration. And the president obviously endorsed it. He had an event for you and Senator Perdue at the White House when you first introduced it. This year, though, repeatedly, he’s been saying we need more immigration. This is – you know, we need the highest levels ever. You don’t seem to have gone along with that program. And I was wondering what are your – what are your think – what are your thoughts about that?

SEN. COTTON: Well, so let me – let me go back to, first, why I first wrote the RAISE Act a couple years ago, and what we hoped to accomplish with it. There’s no lack of people in Congress focused on things like security and enforcement, or our temporary guest worker programs – all things that are very immediate. Sometimes things that are – people are just looking for quick fixes. Nothing against quick fixes, especially when we have serious problems like we do with the asylum frauds going on at the border right now. But there weren’t that many people focused on our legal immigration system.

And to me, that’s one of the cornerstones of our immigration system, because it’s not about just not how we generate workers for our economy, but citizens for our country. And that’s what we ultimately should focus on, is bringing in new citizens who are going to help contribute to the American story. And as I studied our legal immigration system, I realized it was just a mishmash of quotas, and random set asides, and policies that are outdated and that no one can even explain. I mean, only one out of 15 workers today comes here because of the skills and the job that they’re going to have. It’s almost entirely because at some point in the past they had some distant relative who made it to the United States somehow or another.

And even those who do come here because of their employment don’t really reflect the needs of our economy. I mean, we have all kinds of set-asides and quotas in our employment-based immigration system that make no sense. I mean, we even have quotas set aside for foreign lawyers to come to this country. (Laughs.) You know, a lot of people talk erroneously about jobs Americans won’t do, or we don’t have enough. I know that the one thing we have enough of is lawyers in the country.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Maybe if we imported more we could get the wages down for lawyers. (Laughs.)

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, no kidding. So that’s why I focused on the RAISE Act. And I focused on trying to – I looked at the criteria. We consulted with some really thoughtful experts in places like Australia and Canada who employ this system. We wanted an easily administered system. So we tried to identify criteria that are simple, they’re straightforward, they can’t be gamed, but they contribute significantly to success for new immigrants in this country.

So age, younger Americans better than older Americans if you’re bringing in new Americans because you want people to work and be productive and pay taxes for their entire lifetime. Their education level, and their educational field. So things like engineering and mathematics. The kind of job that they’re going to have in their local economy. You know, a $100,000 wage in Fort Smith, Arkansas goes a lot farther than it does in New York City. So taking into account those kinds of differences. Ability to speak English, one of the single most important criteria for success in our country. Any kind of exceptional skill or talent. You know, whether they’re a Nobel Prize-winning physicist or a world-class opera singer, or a 100-mile-an-hour fastball pitcher. And things that could be reset and evaluated every six months, every 12 months.

That’s why we wrote the RAISE Act. I think there’s widespread agreement that’s the kind of immigration system we need. As it relates to numbers, the numbers that we have in the RAISE Act would gradually decline over time because of the reduction in extended family migrations – so you can’t bring in aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and all the rest – by refocusing the number of green cards on employment-based systems. And as you say, there’s some debate about the appropriate number of immigrants and the actual impact that the legislation would have. I think once you get the system right, once the criteria are set, then that’s an appropriate space for legislative compromise.

I tend to think that we are at historically elevated numbers – as high as we’ve seen since, you know, right before the 1924 Immigration Act. And almost one in seven Americans are foreign born. I think, you know, because most of those foreigners when they come here are unskilled and low-skilled workers, that’s one reason why Americans with high school degrees who are working with their hands and on their feet all day long have seen their wages suffer for so long. So I tend to think that a gradual decline over time, while refocusing also on high-skilled workers, will be very beneficial for unskilled and low-skilled American workers.

But, again, that’s an area where once you get the system right – the criteria, or the baseline standards for how we’re admitting new foreign nationals to ultimately become citizens – the total level of immigration is an area for legislative compromise.

MR. KRIKORIAN: It’s interesting because what you described in your RAISE Act is not really that dissimilar from what we saw 20-plus years ago with the Barbara Jordan Commission. Barbara Jordan was a leading Democrat. It was a bipartisan commission. Bill Clinton endorsed the legislation initially. And that’s kind of the way I wanted to get to the question about today’s Democrats and immigration. There was actually – I mean, I don’t know, I’ll use the word – they were a lot more sensible from my perspective, a lot less – a lot more centrist, I guess, in the past, as President Clinton and Barbara Jordan and others demonstrate. We’re doing this on July 30th. And tonight and tomorrow the next round of Democratic presidential debates.

And frankly, the Democratic Party seems to have gone kind of bonkers on immigration. This started before President Trump’s election, but it really has accelerated since then. At the previous round of debates everyone raised their hand and supported decriminalizing infiltration across the border. They all raised their hands and endorsed taxpayer-funded Medicare for illegal aliens. Now Congresswoman Omar has tweeted demanding taxpayer funded abortions for illegal aliens, which is almost like something Republican oppo researchers would have dreamed up over a couple of beers on a Saturday night, and yet it’s a real thing. And so my question for you is, what’s going on with your colleagues across the aisle?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, I think you put it well. I would just restate and say the Democrats have lost their mind when it comes to immigration. Barbara Jordan and I probably wouldn’t have agreed on much if we had served in Congress together. But on this, she was largely right. A lot of old Democratic union leaders, you know, used to have this view of immigration as well. I think as the Democrats have become a party focused less on kitchen table issues, on what matters to working Arkansans when they’re worried about not having enough paycheck to make it to the end of the month, or worried about, you know, providing for their kid’s braces or their education, that they just focus a lot more on questions of race, gender, sex, identity. And for them, it’s become more of a question of identity than a question about economics and security.

And, you know, if you’re rich – you know, if you’re a rich lobbyist and you live in Bethesda or, you know, you’re a rich ex-president and you live in Chappaqua outside New York – (laughs) – you know, mass migration is a pretty good bargain for you. You know, they’re not – immigrants are not coming here to take your job as a lobbyist or take your job giving $200,000 speeches. So you don’t have to worry about the impact it has on your local economy. You know, you’re not sitting in an emergency room waiting to get health care, you know, not being able to see a doctor. And in the meantime, it drives down the price of all the personal services that you depend on in fields where you have a lot of immigrants working, like childcare and house cleaning and –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Landscaping.

SEN. COTTON: Landscaping, manicures and pedicures, and creates, like, exciting new fusion restaurants as well. (Laughter.) So the story in Bethesda and Chappaqua and Los Angeles and Silicon Valley of mass migration is a pretty unalloyed good. But if you’re in rural Arkansas or you’re along the border in Texas, or manufacturing communities in the upper Midwest, it’s the opposite story. But the Democratic Party largely represents those elites on the coast now. They don’t represent a lot of hardworking communities across the country.

MR. KRIKORIAN: It’ll be entertaining. I’m going to be tuning in tonight to see what next thing they’re going to have them all raise their hands too –

SEN. COTTON: Well, no, they’re not going to be doing that. CNN has said that they’re not going to have hand-raising or yes/no questions.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Oh, have they? Too bad.

SEN. COTTON: Well, that’s because CNN represents – or, understands the party that they represent was embarrassed by those hand-raising questions. So they don’t want to –

MR. KRIKORIAN: It was basically a Republican campaign advertisement.

SEN. COTTON: No, CNN doesn’t want to do anything to hurt their party.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right. (Laughs.) So on some specific issues that the Senate’s going to be dealing with, today Senator Durbin’s expected to bring up the bill for so-called Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans. The House passed it recently. I understand he’s going to bring it up for unanimous consent, and it probably will be objected to. So it’s not as though there’s going to be a debate today, but the fact is this issue of TPS for Venezuelans is one that is coming up.

And there are some Republicans sympathetic to it, because obviously they’re fleeing a socialist dictatorship. But we’ve published results showing there’s basically an informal moratorium on deportations to Venezuela anyway. Only the hardest cases, a handful of people, are deported. And that’s appropriate use of the discretion that DHS has. So my question specifically is what do you think about this issue of TPS for Venezuelans? And maybe more broadly, do you think this idea of TPS, which we’re now dealing with from Haitians and Salvadorians and others, where it’s not really temporary at all, does that need to be – does this whole structure need to be changed?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. So first off, let me express my sympathy to all those Venezuelans who are living here. Many of them have ties to America through family members, or education, or working here legally for many years but their, you know, status may be about to expire. And let me express my sympathy to Venezuelans living under the corrupt, dictatorial regime of Maduro. This is the kind of situation that Temporary Protected Status as a program was created to address. It was created to address people who are living here legally. Came on a visa, for instance. Can’t get it renewed. Maybe they’re a student and their education is done. But for some reason, they can’t return to their home country safety or easily. Either it’s a – there’s a famine going on and a brutal socialist crackdown, or there’s been a natural disaster, what have you. I think most Americans recognize that’s a sensible, sound policy in principle.

The problem is, that’s not the way it’s played out in practice over the last 20 years. As you stress, the T in TPS stands for temporary. There are few things more permanent though than Temporary Protected Status. I mean, we have foreign nationals living in our country today who got TPS protection 10 or 20 years ago while there was a civil war going on in their country, and the war has been settled for over 10 years. Ultimately, TPS is not a way to live in this country permanently and become a citizen. It was a humanitarian – it was designed as a humanitarian gesture. So under normal conditions, what’s happening in Venezuela now would be a good candidate for Temporary Protected Status. But that’s not the conditions we live in.

The bureaucracies of both parties for decades have been unwilling to rescind TPS status when it should be rescinded. Now that President Trump finally has done so, you have left-wing judges basically practicing a form of resistance law that is not letting the president withdraw TPS status, which is his prerogative under federal law. So I think it’s unwise for us to extend more TPS protection to other countries when we can’t even withdraw it from countries who have it now. If Senator Durbin and Senator Menendez would like to include in their bill that – measures that would overturn those court decisions and say that a decision to rescind TPS status by the president, by the Department of Homeland Security is not reviewable in the federal courts, I’d very much be open to reviewing that.

But we shouldn’t – we shouldn’t be granting more discretionary status under TPS when the president can’t even unwind past grants of TPS status, even though the conditions for which we granted that status have been gone for years.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Just to follow up on that one, obviously that would require a president who wanted to rescind the status. And that’s never happened before now. Have you given any thought to reforms to the TPS statute itself?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. So I think probably one way to do it is to – rather than make it an affirmative grant, that the president – or an affirmative step the president has to take to rescind it, as President Trump did in 2017, make it like a reviewable status, like you have to make it – the affirmative step has to be to extend it again. Things like that, so we can make sure that – again, like, we don’t want to send, you know, hundreds or thousands of foreign nationals who are here legally back to a country that has been wracked by an earthquake or by hurricanes. They can’t process them. Or to socialist hellholes like Venezuela. But at the same time, conditions change. And when you can’t return to a country because a civil war is wages, when the civil war is over you got to go back to your country. When the country’s basic infrastructure is recovered from an earthquake, or landslides, or hurricanes, you’ve got to go back to your country eventually. If you want to stay in this country, you need to apply through another legal avenue to stay in the country.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Another piece of legislation that the Senate is likely to deal with is something called the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act. The House passed this recently. And what it would do is remove what are called the per-country caps, which are in the law in order to ensure certain levels of diversity, so that one country doesn’t sort of take over the whole immigration system. This legislation would remove those caps. And critics have said that even though it won’t increase the overall level of immigration, it doesn’t do anything to that, it would essentially bring about the takeover of our whole employment-based immigration by people from India, because they’re the ones in the waiting list for these green-cards. You’re one of the co-sponsors of the bill. And I just wanted to think – sort of what are your answers to those critiques? What’s the rationale for the legislation?

SEN. COTTON: So the fundamental reason why I think this is a step in the right direction, a modest step in the right direction but a step in the right direction, is that it moves away from the kind of immigration system we have now to the kind of system I want – a system that doesn’t care where you come from. It cares what you bring here. So I think that’s a step in the right direction. That’s why the RAISE Act eliminated all those country caps and quotas as well. We want to treat people as individuals, no matter where they come from.

Now, as you say, as a practical matter, for a few years it would result in a significantly higher number of green cards going to Indian nationals. But it wouldn’t increase the number of green cards total. And in fact, it wouldn’t increase, and might even decrease, the number of foreign workers coming here on an annual basis, new foreign workers being added to our economy, because the large – the large number of those Indian nationals who would get green cards are already here working on H-1B visas. As a practical matter, those visas tend to be extended. But also, I’m not the biggest fan of those H-1B visas either. Again, as I said at the outset, it’s important that we bring new workers into our economy. What’s even more important is that we produce new citizens that believe in America and want to share in the American dream.

I tell tech companies this a lot, because they often are the beneficiaries of these H-1B visas, and they come to Washington and they lobby all the time for it. And I just say, look, I don’t want to give you more H-1B visas. I want to give you more citizens. I want people who are going to come here and be citizens and participate in our country and become Americans – and, in fact, also, have a better bargaining position as it relates to employers. I understand that some employers would rather have an H-1B worker than they would an American citizen, because the H-1B worker is almost an indentured servant in terms of their bargaining power, their ability to ask for more and higher wages and benefits, or just to leave and go to another company. If you have an American citizen and they don’t like what they’re being paid and it’s a hot job market, like we have now, they can always just take their – take their skills to another company. So that would be another positive step in the right direction.

MR. KRIKORIAN: The way the lobbyists for the tech company refer to that is they say the H-1Bs are more loyal. (Laughter.) Which is to say, they can’t leave. So –

SEN. COTTON: Well, and – now, it’s not just H-1Bs. I mean, that’s the case in a lot of these guest worker programs. That’s one reason why, even though my legislation, the RAISE Act, doesn’t focus on the guest worker program, I would much prefer to have citizens coming to this country and working, as opposed to people who just want to come here and work in our jobs, and send their money back home, and ultimately go back to their country as well. Not to say that’s never appropriate, but there’s a lot of abuse in that system. And in general, American jobs should be going to American workers first.

And that’s one of the benefits and one of the good-news stories we have from this economy. Between an economy that is very strong and an immigration system now that is focused now on the needs of American workers, you have for the first time a lot of people coming off the sidelines – some of the very people that the Democrats say they want to represent and that they want to get a fair shake, you know, whether they’re minority workers, or teenage workers, or disables workers, or ex-cons, people who are getting jobs that we need done in our society and that we need to get off the sidelines and succeed in America. It’s better to hire those Americans in those jobs, whether it’s a tech job or a landscaping job, what have you, than to import foreign workers for those jobs.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Amen. Just before I ask my last question, we have cards. If you want to write down a question, I’ll be taking questions from the audience in a few minutes.

Another thing that’s in the news – this is last week – the administration signed what they billed as a safe third country agreement with Guatemala. And Guatemalans are saying it’s not really a safe third country agreement. But the point is – the point is to try to deal with the border crisis, where people are basically using bogus asylum claims as a means of illegal immigration. The details aren’t really clear yet. We found a Spanish version of the text. We haven’t found the English version of the text of the deal yet. But apparently part of what the arrangement is, is that we’re going to give more guest worker visas to Guatemalans kind of as a – I won’t say bribe, but it’s a bribe, basically – for Guatemala to sign the agreement.

So generally, what do you think about this idea of a kind of quid pro quo to get Guatemala to cooperate? And more broadly, what should we be doing about this border crisis?

SEN. COTTON: Well, we have a crisis right now because some well-intentioned laws and some misguided court decisions have kind of conspired, along with activists here in the United States and in Latin America, to drive all these – this bogus and fraudulent claims of asylum to our border. Look, Guatemala, and Honduras, and El Salvador have many troubles. However, their citizens do not face the kind of persecution based on who they are or what they believe that our asylum and refugee laws were designed for. You know, we designed those laws for, you know, Jews from the Soviet Union, and from Iran, or for Christians from Syria. Those are the kinds of people who we have passed asylum and refugee law, because they were being persecuted for being a woman, or, you know, worshiping the God – the way they choose, belonging to a certain ethnic or racial group.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Or political group, too.

SEN. COTTON: Yes. We didn’t pass asylum and refugee laws to alleviate the world’s suffering. You know, living in a poor country, living in a country that’s dangerous, is not grounds for asylum or refugee status. If it were, we would have to admit about 6 billion people from around the world to our country. It’s only the arbitrary fact that those countries are on the same landmass that we are, and they can travel across that landmass and get to our border, that has created this crisis in the first place. So we need to take immediate steps to try to resolve the crisis on the border.

The president’s tried to do that repeatedly – working with Mexico in terms of deploying national guard to their border – northern and southern border. Deeming Mexico a safe third country. Trying to get Guatemala to recognize itself as a safe third country. Again, you have these left-wing Obama judges who are – have a hair trigger anytime the ACLU or other activist groups come in. They file an immediate nationwide injunction with no basis whatsoever – one of which we just saw overturned last week by the Supreme Court. That needs to stop. I hope the Supreme Court steps in sooner rather than later and takes a firm stand against these activist judges. Unless the president executes some of the policies that he and the Department of Homeland Security and that Attorney General Barr just announced another one in terms of trying to tighten the standards for asylum.

Long term Guatemala and El Salvador and Honduras would send fewer foreign nationals here if they were better places. So there’s things we can do to help them try to crack down on crime in terms of information sharing or technical expertise and training that our FBI or DEA can provide to them. But we have to recognize those – I mean, that’s not going to happen next week. You know, those countries in Central America, they’re not going to become Norway tomorrow, or next year, or in the next decade. So those are good long-term proposals that we should pursue. But we need to take immediate action to stop the fraud that we see on our border.

MR. KRIKORIAN: John Maynard Keynes, I think, was the one who said: In the long run, we’re all dead. So we can’t wait for the long run.

SEN. COTTON: It is true. And we’re not the only country that’s faced this. If you look at what’s happened in Europe over the last five, six years with the refugee crisis that the Syrian civil war has generated and the Libyan civil war – both Libya itself, and making Libya a place that every country to its south can transit. Europe cannot give refuge to every single person who lives in Africa and Asia that doesn’t have the standard of living that Europe does. Certainly not possible. And it’s not, particularly in my opinion, a moral policy to do what Angela Merkel did a few years ago, which is say: If you survive the journey, you can come. So encouraging people to make the very dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, or through Syria and Turkey and the Balkans.

Or, in our case, up through Central America and Mexico. I mean, if that – if she really wanted to, she would just send plane after plane of – from Lufthansa in Syria and bring all these people back. But she doesn’t. So he’s just trying to ameliorate the problem that she has on her borders. And that’s what a lot of Democrats want to do. They just want to ameliorate the people and the individual cases without thinking through the long-term policy implications of what you’re saying. Especially if you say what the Democrats said in that debate last week, where we’re going to decriminalize crossing the border illegally, and we’re not going to deport anyone unless they commit a serious felony. And, by the way, when you get here, we’re going to pay for your health care as well. I mean, that’s the definition of an open-borders policy.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yep. Next month at some point we’re going to have a panel discussion actually here at the Press Club. We’re going to have a report on the national security challenges from a large foreign student program. And you’ve introduced targeted legislation on one part of that. Students or researchers who are working for, sponsored by the Chinese army or intelligence should not be getting student visas. Sort of more broadly – or, maybe specifically that, but more broadly – what do you see as the vulnerabilities that our current very large, unlimited foreign student program creates for us?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s not be naïve here. The Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army purposefully infiltrates America’s universities and research laboratories with agents to try to steal national security secrets. That’s not to say that every Chinese student that comes to America is an agent of the Chinese Communist Party or the People’s Liberation Army, but we shouldn’t be naïve about that threat. And we should always err on the side of national security as opposed to beneficence on behalf of the foreign students. One way to handle that is to do more thorough background checks on the students that come here. Another way to handle that is to focus on the kind of programs they want to study.

Chinese students at National Laboratory or affiliated institutes? No. Chinese students at major research universities, studying in advanced scientific and engineering programs, that do major contract work with the Department of Defense or the intelligence community? No. If Chinese students want to come here and study the great books of the Western tradition, so they can learn more about constitutional democracy and individual liberty, I can support that. (Laughs.)

MR. KRIKORIAN: But is there a broader issue? I mean, not just – first of all, for instance, Iranian students not just Chinese – in a narrow security sense – but is there broader issue that we are kind of atrophying our own ability to grow our own tech, STEM expertise, because there’s only so many chairs – there’s only so many seats in a lecture hall?

SEN. COTTON: Sure. That’s right. And too many universities have become too reliant on Chinese students and Chinese money. And, again, that’s part of China’s deliberate policy as well. Even if you’re not an agent of the Chinese government, still sending Chinese students to places like MIT, or Cal Tech, or what have you, to study artificial intelligence or quantum computing, and just coming back to China and working in Chinese industry is much better for China than it is for the United States. And it’s something to which we need to be attentive as well.

MR. KRIKORIAN: We have some questions from the audience. One, we talked about the RAISE Act some. But what do you think – what are the prospects of some kind of legislation? You know, this Congress doesn’t seem very likely, but, you know, is there a – is there a realistic scenario for something like, say, the RAISE Act to be passed?

SEN. COTTON: So I knew when we introduced the RAISE Act two years ago that it would be a slow and gradual path to build support for it. But we have added two new co-sponsors among the freshman class of senators this year. We’re getting growing support from Congressmen in the House of Representatives as well. As you say, I have measured expectations of passing major immigration legislation with Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House. It’s amazing that Nancy Pelosi is now in the moderate wing of her party in the House of Representatives. And with the Democrats running for president all wanting to decriminalize illegal immigration and give health care to illegal immigrants.

I suspect, though, that with another loss to Donald Trump in 2020 that some Democrats may begin to see things in a different way, and perhaps go back to the way people like Barbara Jordan viewed the matter. Or, for that matter, some of the things that Bill Clinton used to say about illegal immigration in the 1990s – things that would get him excommunicated from today’s Democratic Party. So as has often been the case throughout our history on major immigration legislation, the issue percolates for many years before conditions become ripe in Congress. So it’s just a matter of continuing to do the yeoman’s work from day to day in Congress to educate my colleagues and tor try to bring them around to our point of view.

MR. KRIKORIAN: The – this is not one of the questions submitted, but it occurred to me that one of the targeted changes that – I mean, the RAISE Act is a broad kind of rewrite of the whole legal immigration system. But one of the things that’s – everybody seems to be for, President Obama’s for it, everybody’s for it, was mandatory E-Verify. In other words, when you hire somebody you make – you’re able to check online – you area already able, but you would be required to check online whether the person is lying to you or telling the truth about who they are and what their Social Security number is. What are the prospects of something like that passing? Because, like I said, that’s targeted. Everybody said they’re for it. And yet, it keeps just not happening.

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. I mean, I think this is an example of where you have something of a silent conspiracy between the left and Republicans who kind of reflexively favor the interest of big business. Obviously E-Verify would make it much harder to employ illegal immigrants. And, you know, stories about false-positives and glitches in the system, you know, those are 15 years old by this point. E-Verify is extremely easy to use. It’s very effective. The failure rate is infinitesimally small.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but do you use at your office for hiring? We use it. CIS uses it.

SEN. COTTON: I’d have to ask –

MR. KRIKORIAN: OK. Yeah, I don’t mean to – but the point is, it’s the kind of thing I think that’s now used for all – it’s required for all government contractors. In fact, we looked at the numbers, and it seems that the majority of new hires are actually now already being screened through it. So in a sense, it’s reached a kind of tipping point. It seems to me that’s a pretty – a selling point for it. Kind of to overcome some of the objections you’ve talked about.

SEN. COTTON: It’s already widely used.


SEN. COTTON: And I speak to, you know, senior business executives and industries that do in certain parts of the country rely heavily on immigrant labor, like hospitality. And they frequently tell me is, like, look, we think we need more workers. We understand you don’t see it that way. But we use E-Verify. And we want to make sure that every person who works here is legally authorized to be in this country and to work. And part of the reason we do that is because when we say we need more workers, we want to be able to say and all of our workers are legal as well. But I think there are still plenty of employers who would rather not do that – you know, would rather look the other way and benefit from, you know, the – you know, more control, and more loyalty, as you said in the H-1B context, and lower wages. And also people on the left who just – you know, their kind of devotion to identity politics, don’t want to do anything that smacks of internal enforcement. Although, again, last month at the Democratic debates we saw that not only do they not want to enforce the law against anyone who’s in this country illegally – whether they’ve been here 30 years or 30 hours – they also don’t want to enforce the border either.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right. Right. Exactly.

This is an Arkansas-specific question. Walmart’s based in Arkansas. Do you – presumably it’s an important interest that you have interactions with. Have they weighed in on the immigration issue? I mean, is –

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, we talk about it. Walmart uses E-Verify. You know, they’re a good corporate employer. Pay a good wage. I think their new wage is up now to $11 or $12 an hour, not just in Arkansas where that was mandated by the voters a couple years back, but around the country as well. I think, you know, they would like to see an immigration system that works for our communities. But in terms of their employment practices they’re a good corporate employer.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Good. Good. This is a question for the audience, I’ll expand it a little bit, it’s asking: In your tenure in office, how has attitudes toward enforcement changed among you colleagues? And what I want to focus that maybe on is how have Republican members’ attitudes changed on the immigration issue? Have you seen a shift? Because, you know, the old line is, you know, the left wants immigration because of the cheap votes and the right wants it for the cheap labor. But it seems that there’s been more – the consensus has developed and expanded among Republicans more. That there’s been – even those Republicans who maybe used to be kind of relaxed and lax on the immigration issue have become less so as they’ve seen the saliency of the issue. Is that something you’ve noticed as well?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. I think that the president had effected that to a degree. And I would say that for a long time, though, a lot of Republicans – especially those not intensely focused on the immigration issue – have always focused on illegal immigration, because it’s the issue that is maybe easiest to talk to voters about and focus on. But it also allows them to focus on a legal immigration system that really rewards large lawyers in terms of guest workers and lots and more green cards that are going to benefit big businesses without necessarily benefitting American workers.

Now, when you have situations like we have at the border now that is truly in crisis, I think most Republicans do genuinely want to try to solve that. It’s just that Democrats don’t. I would look at the enforcement attitudes, though, of my Democratic colleagues. I mean, you know, the model of those bills I opposed, not only when I was in the House but just when I was a private citizen, goes back to 1986. And it was, you know, amnesty and mass migration up front in return for promises of enforcement. And the reason why those bills – one reason why those bills failed is the 1986 bill failed. Because you got the amnesty immediately, which is irreversible. And of course, you got the large increases in immigration, which a lot of Republican constituencies love. But you never got the enforcement. Bureaucrats delayed it. Courts enjoined it. Congresses defund it.

I don’t – people keep talking about comprehensive immigration reform, which is the code word for that kind of deal – mass amnesty up front, promises of enforcement later. I don’t think you could even have that kind of compromise today because the Democrats are no longer credible in their promises of future enforcement. I mean, they’re raising their hand saying we’re going to decriminalize crossing the border, and we’re not going to deport anyone unless they commit a violent felony. So I don’t see how you could even negotiate in good faith and have that kind of compromise with the Democrats anymore, given how radical their attitudes towards immigration enforcement have become.

MR. KRIKORIAN: So in a sense, not only is Nancy Pelosi now the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, President Obama is much more, in a sense, almost a moderate Democrat, because he obviously understood that dynamic to some degree. And early on, even though there was a lot of sleight of hand and some of it was dishonest, they did try to make the point that they were committed to enforcement.

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, like – I mean, like they intentionally said repeatedly as a selling point for Obamacare that illegal immigrants would not be eligible for Obamacare. And now you’ve got poor Joe Biden getting attacked on those debate stages by Democrats who say that they deported too many illegal immigrants during the Obama-Biden years. It just goes to show you how radical the Democratic Party has become on the question of immigration.

MR. KRIKORIAN: So Congressman Wilson, who called out “you lie,” was actually proven correct. (Laughter.)

This is a question on the southern border. What are some of the measures you think can take in the event of another big caravan approaching the border? Because the question – I mean, the measures the president has taken have maybe had some effect, but they haven’t solved the problem.

SEN. COTTON: Yeah. So I think we’ll have to see on a month-to-month basis where the numbers are. They have declined somewhat. I hope that’s because of the policy, which means it’s durable and lasting, and not just because it’s hot. Not just because it’s hot it June, July and August in the southern border. But some of these policies are still early. They still have to be fully implemented. They still have to be implemented period of a court has enjoined them. That’s one reason why I was encouraged last week by the court’s decision to overturn one of these left-wing injunctions out in California.

I hope and I expect the Department of Justice will continue to seek accelerated appeals to the Supreme Court to prevent all these left-wing judges from trying to intervene in places where they have no business. There is zero role for a federal judge to enjoin a decision between the government of Mexico and the United States government about whether Mexico will keep foreign nationals on its own soil. I mean, there is zero grounds for a federal judge to intervene in that kind of core foreign policy decision.

MR. KRIKORIAN: That’s part of a broader issue is this injunction. The district court judges essentially have a veto over not only the executive branch but over very other district court judge, because there were those two dueling decision – where one district court judge upheld the administration policy, the other enjoined it. And the one who enjoined it won, basically. And so is that – is there a place there for Congress, actually, to intervene, since all of those courts are simply a creation of Congress?

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, so I would like to see Congress pass legislation that would roll back district court judges in local communities around the country from enjoining laws nationwide. And that’s – again, that’s not even adjudicating the question on the merits. That’s giving it injunction upfront before there’s even been an adjudication on the merits of a particular policy or law. You know, Justice Scalia used to say that nine unelected judges in Washington ought not to be setting critical policies for our country. They ought to be interpreting and applying the law. It’s much worse than that now. It’s not nine unelected justices in Washington about whom we have a major debate every time there’s a nominee. Now we’re letting unelected lawyers in San Francisco, who nobody’s ever heard of, set immigration policy for this country.

So, again, I was heartened by the Supreme Court’s decision last week. I hope that they, acting on accelerated appeals by the Department of Justice, will continue to send a clear signal to all these left-wing judges that they ought not be trying to set immigration policy from their courtroom.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, thank you, Senator. I know you have to run. The Senate’s got important business to do. And I appreciate your giving us your time. This is – we’re going to be posting this to the internet as well, to our website. And hopefully we’ll have you back when the RAISE Act passes.

SEN. COTTON: Yeah, hopefully.

MR. KRIKORIAN: So thank you very much.

SEN. COTTON: Thank you, Mark. Appreciate it. (Applause.)