Since meaningful immigration reform has been killed by House Republicans, advocates are increasingly looking to President Obama to use his lawful authority to provide some form of administrative relief for undocumented immigrants. The organized anti-immigrant movement in this country, however, has also been looking to someone to help advance their nativist policy aims – Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
From the moment Congress began considering reform proposals after the 2012 elections, Sen. Sessions has positioned himself as leader against the lives of immigrants. In doing so, he has emerged as a champion of that movement’s social agenda.
Sessions regularly frames his opposition to immigrants as a means to defend workers.
This false-trope of “humble and honest populism” – as he described it in a memo to Republican colleagues last summer – is parroted (when not first authored) by influential Beltway anti-immigrant organizations, specifically the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA.
However, like those groups, Sessions is no such champion.
A quick glance at his voting record shows that he has next-to-no interest in defending workers unless he can scapegoat immigrants in the process.
As Ezra Klein wrote for The Washington Post’s Wonkblog last year:
- In February 2012, Sessions opposed extending payroll tax cuts that would have saved working families about $1,000 per year.
- Sessions also opposed the American Jobs Act that would have created tax breaks for working families, reduced the federal deficit and created incentives for employers to hire unemployed veterans.
- In 2007, Sessions voted against the Employer Free Choice Act. Klein notes the legislation would have “made certain that the gains of the economy were shared more equitably between labor and capital.”
- Sessions has also consistently opposed other tax cuts for middle class workers, raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment insurance and food assistance programs for working families who struggle every day.
With such a clear anti-worker voting record, how can Sen. Sessions credibly be considered a defender of workers? His record proves that while working families pay out and lose out, he’s happy paying lip-service to their struggles while blocking concrete measures that would improve their lives.
The aforementioned Beltway anti-immigrant groups that Sessions so closely aligns himself with can claim they are simply single-issue organizations in order to deflect criticism of their hypocrisy on immigration’s broadly positive effects on our economy all they want – as usual, they’re lying. As an elected official, however, Sen. Sessions has no excuse.
Underscoring that, Sessions has spent the last two years bringing himself ever closer to those groups, not to the workers he claims to care about. He has attended anti-immigrant rallies, sought legislative counsel from its representatives and regularly upheld the movement’s dubious research in press releases and media appearances.
Last week at Imagine 2050, we highlighted how the anti-immigrant movement’s purported support of workers is disingenuous and predicated on 5 particular distortions.
Sessions certainly utilizes these distortions to manufacture his image as a populist hero championing the rights of workers. However, until he and this movement propose some pragmatic policies that truly support workers – rather than demonizing immigrant communities – both will continue to reveal the bigotry that drives their efforts.
In other words, there’s nothing “humble and honest” about Sessions or his anti-immigrant allies.
As Ezra Klein wrote last year:
“After all, the Congressional Budget Office projects the [immigration reform] bill will generate at least $200 billion in net revenues through 2023, and about a trillion dollars through 2033. Sessions could author an amendment to put all that money into the Earned Income Tax Credit. Or he could use it to fund a lavish education and training program for poorer Americans, so they can upgrade their skills – and their economic prospects – at no cost.
But Sessions doesn’t want to do any of that. He just wants to kill immigration reform. It’s almost as if his opposition to the bill isn’t really about poor Americans at all.”
A year later, it’s clear – his opposition hasn’t been about helping the poor.
It never was.
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