Democrats Have Veered Left on Immigration Debate

It wasn’t that long ago that Democrats supported an immigration proposal that looked much like the one that has currently been put on the table by Republicans.

The so-called Gang of Eight, led by Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, included three key planks: A path to citizenship for certain unlawfully present aliens, increased border security (including doubling the number of border patrol agents and construction of hundreds of miles of additional fencing), and a shift away from family-based to a merit-based visa program that would put a premium on jobs skills and education.

That’s not altogether different than the immigration proposal that President Trump has laid out, which offers the “dreamers” a path to citizenship in exchange for funding for the border wall and limits on chain migration. Notably, President Trump’s offer pushes the limits on what the Republican base finds acceptable. Although he’s received criticism rather than credit, this White House is earnestly working to identify a compromise. As Marc Thiessen writes for the Washington Post:

So this is where things stand: Trump is challenging his base while Democrats are pandering to theirs. The irony is rich. Democrats say Trump is unfit to be president, but when it comes to immigration, he is the one being presidential, while they are behaving like political hacks.

Their reaction raises a question: Do Democrats even want a deal? Or is their hatred of Trump and lust for power so all-encompassing that they can’t bring themselves to sit down with the president, negotiate in good faith and reach a compromise — one that would allow dreamers not only to stay but also to become American citizens, a compromise that would secure our borders and reform our immigration system?

That Democrats oppose this deal at all shows how fast and how far they’ve shifted on the issue of migration. Keep in mind that it wasn’t long ago that Democrats were not unified in their support for legal immigration, much less a path to citizenship for those here illegally.

As prominent liberal blogger Paul Krugman wrote in 2006, immigration “is an intensely painful topic for a liberal like myself because it places basic principles in conflict.” On the one hand he argues, “it helps very poor people find a better life,” but on the other hand, “it drives down the wages of working Americans and threatens to undermine the welfare state.” Those weren’t opinions, they were based on his interpretation of the economic research.

That’s a weighty debate that doesn’t lend itself well to stridency, even if you don’t account for other intangibles such as the populist desire for social cohesion and the concern over border security. And yet Democrats, perhaps in their hopes of capturing the votes of the growing Hispanic political constituency, refuse to accept that there is any competing arguments at all.

In fact, as Andrew Sullivan writes for New York Magazine, the left is wrapping the immigration debate with accusations of racism, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a free exchange of ideas.

“The entire concept of a nation whose citizens solely determine its future — the core foundation for any viable democracy at all — is now deemed by many left-liberals to be a function of bigotry,” Sullivan writes. “This is the kind of madness that could keep them from power indefinitely.”

Even liberal icon Sen. Bernie Sanders came to feel the scorn of the left when he attempted to rekindle the idea that increased immigration was a “Koch brothers proposal” to lower corporate wages. It’s an issue that he promptly de-emphasized and others seemed to have learned from his mistake. Unwavering support for immigration is a litmus test for current Democrat presidential contenders.

And yet the shift occurs at the same time that many Americans are expressing legitimate economic concerns about immigrants. As Thomas Edsall writes for the New York Times:

Overall, public opinion on immigration — particularly the views of those opposed to immigration — played a crucial role in the outcome of the 2016 election. Among the 13 percent of voters who identified immigration as the most important issue, Trump won, 64-33.

Democrats would be wise to see the political folly of their current position. In theory it shouldn’t take that much of a change in their mindset. Indeed, President Trump has already met Democrats where they were in 2013, largely mirroring the core tenets of the Gang of Eight proposal. But for Democrats, preventing a Trump victory on immigration may be more important than helping Dreamers achieve citizenship.


Photo credit: Immigration by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images