GOP senators say they'll raise minimum wage — if they can hurt immigrants too

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Sens. Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney want to pair a wage hike with an attack on undocumented workers.

Two Senate Republicans say they will back a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage — as long as it is paired with an attack on immigrant workers.

Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Utah announced Tuesday that they will propose an increase in the current $7.25 federal minimum wage that would be tied to preventing businesses from hiring undocumented workers.

"Millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. I’m introducing a bill with @SenTomCotton that would increase the minimum wage while ensuring businesses cannot hire illegal immigrants," Romney tweeted. "We must protect American workers."

Cotton explained that he wanted to force all employers "to verify the legal status of every worker so they can’t undercut Americans on the black market," but would "gradually" raise the floor "without costing jobs" and automatically index the level to inflation.

The Arkansas Republican said toward the end of a tweetstorm that any increase "will go into effect after the pandemic has ended and include protections for small businesses."

With tens of thousands of Americans contracting COVID-19 on a daily basis, when that end will come is anybody's guess — meaning struggling workers could have a long wait for any raise under their plan.

While their eventual wage hike for many Americans would likely lift many low-wage employees out of poverty, by tying it to tougher employer verification, Cotton and Romney would do it at the expense of some of the most vulnerable people in the economy.

Thanks to Republican lawmakers — including those two — most law-abiding undocumented immigrants have no path to legalization or citizenship. As a presidential nominee in 2012, Romney opposed what his campaign called "amnesty" — even for those brought to the country as kids by their undocumented parents. Cotton has also railed against immigration reform proposals, decrying protections for Dreamers as "the single biggest amnesty in the history of the United States."

Contrary to GOP talking points, there is little evidence that immigration has much of a negative influence on wages. An open letter, signed by 1,470 economists in April 2017, noted near-universal agreement on the "broad economic benefit that immigrants to this country bring."

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to support a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase and has proposed doing so as part of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. Senate Republicans blocked a House-passed increase last year and unanimously opposed a resolution advancing his overall proposal.

Polling shows wide public support for a higher minimum wage. A recent survey of voters in swing House districts found 62% support for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

The current federal minimum wage has been unchanged since 2009.

Published with permission of the American Independent Foundation.