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Alabama Senate hopeful and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday called for a moratorium on all employment-based immigration until the U.S. returns to pre-coronavirus crisis unemployment levels.
“American families and workers must come first. It is morally wrong and economically disastrous to import more foreign workers when millions of Americans are out of work through no fault of their own,” he said in a statement.
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Sessions is running for the Republican nomination to fill his old Senate seat in Alabama. Despite Sessions’ support for Trump, the president has backed his opponent, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, over his former attorney general.
When he was in the Senate, Sessions gained a reputation as an immigration hardliner, both on combating illegal immigration and restricting forms of legal immigration.
But what is new for Sessions and other immigration hawks is an economy in freefall — which is moving them from restriction to an outright moratorium.
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 5.25 million last week, as job losses caused by the pandemic mount. That brings total claims over the four weeks that ended April 11 to nearly 22 million workers, erasing the entirety of labor market gains since the 2008 financial crisis — a stunning sign of the colossal economic damage inflicted by the virus outbreak.
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With a labor force that totals about 162 million people, that brings the unemployment rate close to 13 percent.
Sessions said that the moratorium should last until the unemployment rate sinks below 3.5 percent, where it was in February before the crisis rocked the U.S.
“Tens of millions of Americans are out of work and hundreds of thousands of small businesses teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. Americans need to go back to work to rebuild our economy. But it should be American, not foreign, workers taking those jobs, providing for their families, and restoring our economic strength,” he said.
“That is why I am calling on the federal government to immediately halt immigration to the United States until Americans are back to work.”
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Sessions said the “fundamentals” of the Trump economy are strong, and that his plan ensures that it would rebound quickly.
“We don’t need the big government monstrosities that the Democrats and the Establishment want to put in place during this crisis—we need to get Americans back to work,” he said.
The Trump administration has taken a number of immigration and border-related measures in relation to the crisis.
It has closed land borders with Mexico and Canada for all but essential travel, and has implemented travel bans on China, Iran and the European Union.
Additionally, it is turning away illegal immigrants and asylum seekers at the border while also suspending hearings related to the “Remain-in-Mexico” policy.
The administration announced this month that it was suspending additional seasonal guest worker visas, but it upset immigration hawks by streamlining the interview process for many agricultural guest workers.
Fox Business’ Megan Henney contributed to this report