- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

Give Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, credit for trying to link the issues of illegal immigration and the minimum wage on the Senate floor. The two issues are in truth intimately connected — a fact the pro-illegal political establishment almost always ignores. But in forcing Democrats to reject an amendment to drastically increase fines on companies that hire illegal aliens to the Senate minimum-wage bill, Mr. Sessions has at least put the 110th Congress on record declining a politically difficult but almost certainly effective step toward helping workers on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

Mr. Sessions’ amendment would have raised the minimum fine on employers that hire illegals from $250 per offense to $5,000 and the maximum from $10,000 to $40,000. This undoubtedly would have created a significant deterrent effect against the routine hiring of illegal aliens. The amendment was rejected Thursday.

The evidence that a curb in the illegal influx could raise wages at the lowest end of the scales is actually quite considerable. It stands to reason that all else being equal, the risk of a serious fine for hiring illegal aliens can raise labor costs above the few dollars an hour illegals typically get to somewhere near the cost of hiring a minimum-wage employee, which would cause many employers to simply opt for the risk-free approach. And, sure enough, in 2001 the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that Mexican immigration to the United States in the 1990s had reduced the wages of workers without a high-school education by 5 percent. “The workers affected are already the lowest-paid, comprising a large share of the working poor and those trying to move from welfare to work,” CIS wrote back then. The rise in the illegal-alien population over the last five years has only compounded the effect.

American industry is keenly attuned to the connection between wages, illegals and the availability of their low-cost labor. In December, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement embarked on a series of raids in meat-packing plants around the country, business leaders worried privately about the effect on their labor costs and lobbied for an end to the raids. Of course, American industry is also keenly attuned to the re-election prospects of powerful lawmakers, and it helps their campaigns accordingly.

At least the Senate had the good sense to pass Mr. Sessions’ other amendment to prohibit the awarding of government contracts to companies that have hired illegal aliens for seven years, 10 years for companies currently holding government contracts. “We cannot have a discussion on the minimum wage without recognizing the negative impact of illegal immigration on the salaries of American workers,” Mr. Sessions said. Very true.

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