Senator: Immigration reform could create huge new U.S. tax burden

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 4, 2013


U.S. Sen. Jeff Session told members of the Andalusia Lions Club Wednesday he is “uneasy” about proposed plans for immigration reform, specifically the plan’s economic impact for the country.

Sessions, a staunch Methodist, said some of his “church friends” are upset that he would oppose the legislation.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the scripture anywhere, that would make you believe a modern nation state can’t have a lawful immigration system,” he said.

The immigration reform to which he is referring is a bill being crafted by a bipartisan committee of eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, which is expected to create a new visa system, tighter border security, better enforcement hiring laws, and improve legal immigration.

The bill’s path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants includes paying back taxes and learning to speak English.

Sessions said Americans are a “good and decent people who wrestle with how to treat people fairly who’ve been here a long time.”

But when the economic costs are considered, he is insistent: “We need to get our heads straight on this issue,” he said.

Many of those undocumented workers are working, which keeps more Americans on the unemployment rolls, he said.

“It is plain to me, we’d do better to get our people off welfare, off assistance, and on jobs,” he said. “They need to be paying taxes, raising families and getting started in life.”

Sessions said the effect of adding 11 million people to the economy and making them potentially eligible for government benefits has not been studied.

Many of the 11 million undocumented people don’t have high school diplomas. Making them eligible for welfare, social services and health care will be hugely expensive, he said.

As for the border security offered by the proposed legislation, he’s not buying it. The last major immigration reform, which granted amnesty to 4 million people in 1986, also included border security, he said.

He said that studies show that “lower-skilled Americans would be pulled down by this policy, which is particularly adverse to African Americans.”

Sessions said he likes Canada’s immigration policy, which grants preference to people who can speak French or English, have an education, and are younger.

“They look at it on an objective, fair basis,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to see what’s unfair about that.”

The potential cost of immigration reform was just one of the economic costs Sessions said concerns him. There are 83 federal welfare programs that grant $750 billion in aid each year. States provide an additional $250 billion in benefits, making the total welfare costs to taxpayers about $1 trillion, which is higher than the costs of defense ($530 billion(, or Social Security, ($720 billion).

“That’s really a trillion dollars in benefits,” he said.

“The welfare program needs to be a life-starting program,” he said. “It’s is not the right thing to keep sending money to people, enabling them to not be productive in their lives. I don’t know what they expect, or how many people (those programs might) pick up if we bring in even more workers from outside the country.”

The gross debt of the United States is 104 percent of gross domestic product, he said.

“It’s bigger than our economy,” he said. “Spin that any way you want to, but growing up in Hibert, Ala., it seemed to me it was plain, you can’t live off nothing.”

Session said that reducing the annual growth of the federal budget to 3 percent would eventually balance the budget and help reduce the debt.

Despite the serious tone of his talk, he said in the follow-up that he feels positive about America.

“If we get our spending down, we can do it,” he said. “We don’t have to cut programs 30 percent to balance our budget.”

However, he said, he will “dig his toes in” and fight efforts of the federal government to borrow more money.