Posted on May 13, 2015

The Controversy over Immigration and New Trade Authority

Stuart Anderson, Forbes, May 12, 2015

A controversy has emerged about whether granting the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) would result in expanded immigration. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), chair of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, has written, “There are numerous ways TPA could facilitate immigration increases above current law–and precious few ways anyone in Congress could stop its happening.”

To negotiate international trade agreements, a U.S. president needs Trade Promotion Authority. TPA allows a president to finalize an agreement and put it before the U.S. Congress for an up-or-down vote. Without such authority, other countries would not conclude trade agreements with the United States, since amendments in Congress could scuttle the terms of previously agreed upon measures. {snip}

Several holes exist in the theory that granting Trade Promotion Authority will increase immigration. First, Trade Promotion Authority is not the final step in the legislative process. After an international agreement is negotiated, Congress must approve the agreement via implementing legislation. There is no evidence that including immigration provisions in an agreement would gain any votes in Congress. In fact, it appears more likely to lose votes, given at least some members antipathy towards immigration. Given that passage of any trade agreement is not guaranteed it would make no sense for the Obama Administration to attempt to “slip in” immigration provisions.


The Obama Administration has made a specific commitment not to include in a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement any provisions to expand immigration to the United States, including via temporary entry. In a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, U.S. Trade Representative Michael B. G. Froman wrote,

I appreciate your writing to me, and welcome the opportunity to clarify that the United States is not negotiating and will not agree to anything in TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] that would require any modification to U.S. immigration law or policy or any changes to the U.S. visa system.

Going back on that commitment would lose votes in Congress.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) wrote a recent Dear Colleague letter to House members affirming that concerns about immigration provisions becoming part of an upcoming trade agreement are misplaced. “Whatever other countries participating in the TPP negotiations agree to regarding temporary entry, the U.S. will not be a signatory,” noted Goodlatte. “There is nothing in the current draft of the TPP that will in any way advance or facilitate this or any other unconstitutional action by the Administration.”