Who caused Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's amazing flip-flop on immigration? The Republican presidential hopeful used to be in favor of letting more people into the country and legalizing those here illegally. Which is to say, he used to be positively Reaganesque on the issue.
Then he started listening to Sessions, one of the great nativists of the current moment, who has yet to meet an immigrant he likes or a southern border he doesn't want to fortify. As Walker explained to Breitbart.com:
In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying—the next president and the next congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that's based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages, because the more I've talked to folks, I've talked to Senator Sessions and others out there—but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today—is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages, and we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.
Sessions is indeed an influential figure in contemporary conservative politics and that's a damn shame. For the country at large, for huddled masses yearning to be free, and, as I argue in a new column for The Daily Beast, for the Republican Party too.
Contra Sessions, there is no clear public desire for reducing immigration, except among Republicans. Fully 84 percent of Republicans are dissatisfied with the current generous levels, a super-majority that only shows how out of touch the GOP faithful is with the rest of the country. Earlier this year, Gallup found that 54 percent of Americans are either satisfied with current levels of immigration or want more immigration. Just 39 percent were dissatisfied and want less immigration, which is 11 points lower than the same figure in 2008.
The majority of Americans embrace immigration for a lot of different reasons. Part of it is our history and sense of national identity and part of it is a basic if unarticulated recognition of what economists on the right and left haveconsistently found: "On average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans."
Leave aside the fact that immigrants are twice as likely to start their own businesses as native-born Americans. The fact is they tend to be either higher- or lower-skilled than the typical worker, so they complement rather than displace natives. And, as the Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh documents in his exhaustive rebuttal to Sessions's Washington Post piece, immigrants not only consume less welfare and commit less crime than the average American, they pay taxes (often without any hope of getting the money back) and stop coming when the economy sours. If you think immigrants cause problems, check out the parts of the country that nobody is moving to and you'll understand that it's precisely when migrants stop coming that your real troubles are starting.
By the way, Alabama is lagging nationwide population growth. Just saying.
Sessions is also against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or "fast-track authority," a standard practice in negotiating such deals for 40 years that allows the executive branch to negotiate a deal and then bring it to Congress for an up-or-down vote. His anti-TPA/TPP stance has him locking arms with such champions of laissez-faire at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Gov. Martin O'Mally, and Sen. Bernie Sanders. The main reason Sessions dunnit like the deal? Well, allowing the president to negotiate deals that are then submitted to Congress is a dangerous "consolidaton of power" don't you know? And heavens to Hessians, "TPA could facilitate immigration increases above current law." Also, reducing trade barriers could increase…trade with other countries, potentially leading to "increased trade deficits." This is all according to a CRITICAL ALERT the senator released last week (ALL CAPS in original).
There are reasons to be against TPP but increased trade deficits and potentially increased immigration are not among them. In many ways, Sessions represents the worst tendencies of the contemporary Republican Party. He's for limited government, except when it comes to social issues and increasing the defense budget. He's in favor of employer-surveillance programs such as E-Verify, he's conspiracist when it comes to the executive branch (as long as a Dem is sitting in the Oval Office).
But that's him. It's a real shame that other Republicans, especially those running for president, are following his lead on trade and immigration. Those used to be issues the GOP was pretty good on, meaning they were pretty libertarian. Those days seem to be receding into the past.