Shortly after Cotton was elected to the House, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, which offered a path to citizenship for some undocumented aliens. Cotton was among the leaders of the successful effort to persuade John Boehner, then the Speaker, to block the bill from even coming up for a vote in the House. When we chatted at the kitchen table of his boyhood home, Cotton explained his opposition. “It was the élite, bipartisan consensus—‘It’s the only possible solution’—another idea which the great and the good in Washington love, but wrongheaded in almost every particular,” he said. “If you live in a big city and you work in an office building, immigration is almost an unalloyed good for you. . . . It makes the price of services that you pay for a little bit more affordable—whether it’s your nanny to take care of your kids for you, or landscaping your yard, or pedicures, manicures, that sort of thing. And you get a lot of exciting new fusion restaurants as well.
“But if you live and work in a community where they have a large illegal-immigrant population that’s straining the public school, that’s clogging up the emergency room when you’re trying to get care, that makes it more dangerous to drive in the roads because people don’t have driver’s licenses or they don’t have insurance, or if they are bidding down the wages or even taking jobs away from you, then it doesn’t look nearly so good,” Cotton said. He endorses Trump’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border—“Walls work,” he often says—and is a lead sponsor of a bill, strongly supported by the White House, that would cut legal immigration roughly in half. (Cotton’s views on immigration are debatable in every particular. It’s far from clear that a border wall with Mexico would “work” to stop illegal immigration in any meaningful way. Most economists believe that immigrants, legal and otherwise, add more to the economy than they take from it, and that their presence in the labor force does not lead to lower wages over all.)