When lawbreaking is openly celebrated and any efforts at immigration enforcement painted as racist by the Left, Democrats are stoking social division and political gridlock nearly as much as Donald Trump
From both Democrats and Trumpian Republicans, all we get is a stream of dishonesty on the subject of immigration.
Conservative anti-amnesty extremists live in a fantasy world where millions of people without legal status can be summarily removed from the United States without a seriously disruptive effect on both society and the economy, and where building an expensive and functionally questionable fortified border wall will prevent future illegal immigration when they know full well that even a hundred foot wall would do nothing to prevent visa overstays and other methods of subverting immigration law.
Meanwhile in the space of a decade, the bulk of the Democratic Party, cheered on by its most ideological activists, seems to have moved toward a de facto Open Borders position, refusing to countenance any additional immigration enforcement measures and regarding those already in existence as openly racist. Using Donald Trump’s often ignorant and xenophobic rhetoric as a cover, Democratic Party leaders have preposterously suggested that any effort to implement a skills-based immigration policy is by its very nature part of an immoral plan to “Make America White Again” (ironically failing to realise that their assumption that non-white people lack marketable skills is itself racist).
This is not the kind of political posturing from either side which is conducive to the kind of comprehensive deal on immigration reform which everybody knows is not only needed, but by far the most sensitive way to address an intractable situation in a way that allows both Left and Right to gain something that they desperately want.
But while much is made in the media of Donald Trump’s xenophobic boorishness and the lack of nuance to his border wall policy, virtually no scrutiny has been given to the Democrats’ new maximalist position – and certainly no Democratic politicians have been put on the spot by the media as to their actual stance on immigration enforcement (assuming they still believe in any such laws). Republicans are frequently put on the spot and made to squirm over their support (or lack of denunciation) of Donald Trump’s “leadership” on the issue, and rightly so. Meanwhile, senior Democratic politicians who for all intents and purposes have repudiated the need for any kind of immigration control are seemingly immune from the slightest scrutiny. The fact that the media take such a position without any self-awareness is itself evidence of their soft but deeply ingrained bias on the issue.
The latest example of left-wing intractability on the issue came yesterday evening when Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged an eight-hour filibuster-style speech in favour of unilaterally granting legal status to DACA recipients. From the New York Times’ misty-eyed account:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi staged a record-breaking, eight-hour speech in hopes of pressuring Republicans to allow a vote on protecting “Dreamer” immigrants — and to demonstrate to increasingly angry progressives and Democratic activists that she has done all she could.
Wearing four-inch heels and forgoing any breaks, Pelosi, 77, spent much of the rare talkathon Wednesday reading personal letters from the young immigrants whose temporary protection from deportation is set to expire next month. The California Democrat quoted from the Bible and Pope Francis, as Democrats took turns sitting behind her in support. The Office of the House Historian said it was the longest continuous speech in the chamber on record.
Of course, this was immediately (and falsely) reported by much of the mainstream media as a stirring speech in defence of immigrants in general, as though there were some unprecedented new dystopian war being waged against people who correctly followed US immigration law. But so successful have leftist efforts to conflate all types of immigration (legal and illegal) as indistinguishable from one another that few people now raise an eyebrow at this continual, deliberate manipulation of language.
One surefire way to prevent bipartisan agreement on immigration reform is to inject more emotion into the fraught debate than already exists. And again, both parties are guilty of cynically and immorally attempting to manipulate the overly sentimental or credulous by personalising the debate rather than making it one about principles and processes. We saw this at work most shamefully during Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union speech, when Democrats saw fit to bring unlawful immigrants into the spectator gallery of the House chamber, rubbing the lawbreaking aspect in the face of conservatives, while Donald Trump invited bereaved family members of innocent people killed by illegal immigrants, as though to suggest that all such people represent a violent menace to society.
All that this blatant emotional manipulation can do is harden the positions of each respective activist base, eradicating any nuance and unnecessarily demonising the other side. Such behaviour is equally irresponsible coming from Republican or Democrat; both should know better. And it’s worth noting that the Democrats have form when it comes to this kind of manipulative behaviour, with “undocumented” immigrants having been featured prominently and cheered to the rafters at Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party nominating convention in 2016.
But in yesterday’s speech Nancy Pelosi actually went further, not only making an emotional case for those Dreamers brought illegally to the United States as children – a plight with which many moderate, reasonable people can sympathise – but going further and praising the parents who brought their children to America and in doing so put them at risk of future deportation (or at best a childhood and adolescence spent in the shadows).
This crosses the line into open contempt for the rule of law. Many of these parents may have had the best of intentions in doing what they did, and nobody can deny that many American citizens and legal residents, finding themselves in similar circumstances, would likely do the same thing. But ultimately if the parents decide to take up residency in a country to which they have no legal right to remain, they can not be absolved of all blame if immigration law later catches up with their family. Yes, we should absolutely look to provide amnesty to those who have built productive, law-abiding lives in the United States, particularly those brought through no fault of their own as children, but we should also be able to acknowledge that the parents took a calculated and questionable risk in exposing their children to the very real possibility of traumatic future detention or deportation.
And yet Nancy Pelosi will not even make this slight rhetorical concession. Pressured by uncompromising “immigration” activists and her increasingly extremist base to hold the parents of Dreamers in the same high regard as the Dreamers themselves (or “the original Dreamers”, as Democratic leaders have taken to calling these parents) Pelosi instead offers nothing but fawning praise and endorsement of those who knowingly violated US immigration law. From her speech in the House:
“I say to their parents: Thank you for bringing these Dreamers to America. We’re in your debt for the courage it took, for you to take the risk, physically, politically, in every way, to do so.”
Pelosi made a similar point in a recent CNN televised town hall:
“Our Dreamers, they make America dream again, they’re so lovely and we frankly owe a debt to your parents for bringing you here to be such a brilliant part of our future”.
Astonishingly, there is absolutely no nuance to this praise from Nancy Pelosi. Yes, some or even many such parents may have legitimately qualified for refugee status and faced genuine danger and persecution in their home countries. But others simply moved for economic advantage and the promise of a better life – and normalising the flouting of immigration law in case of the latter is effectively an argument for open borders, a declaration that anyone able to set foot on American soil should have the right to permanently remain and ultimately enjoy the full blessings of citizenship.
This is not to attribute the current impasse exclusively to Democrats, who deserve only half of the blame for the present polarisation. But it is worth focusing on Democrat failings, as so much of the media seems determined to give the Left an entirely free pass on the issue, unquestioningly accepting the premise that unilateral amnesty should be offered with nothing demanded in return, and failing to interrogate left-wing politicians on what (if any) immigration enforcement measures they actually still support.
Neither is the Democratic Party’s commitment to the Dreamers proven beyond all doubt. Already they have rejected a deal which would have granted legal status to nearly two million DACA recipients (at significant political cost to the Republicans) because the deal also included measures to tighten future immigration enforcement. If the welfare of the Dreamers really is the top priority for Democratic leaders, why did they spurn an opportunity to secure their status?
Of course there can only be one answer to this question – because it is no longer enough for the Democrats to legalise everybody currently illegally present in the United States. They want to secure this prize while also doing nothing to make it harder for more people to illegally gain entry into the United States in the future, so that they can wheel out these same emotionally manipulative arguments in two decades’ time and cynically repeat the entire process. Having already mentally “banked” the legalisation of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the Democrats seemingly want to ensure an endless, uninterrupted stream of future arrivals. Certainly no prominent Democrat has spoken convincingly about the need for more robust border protection since the 2016 presidential election.
At a time when much of the focus is (rightly) on the often xenophobic and discomforting language emanating from the Oval Office, it is also worth reminding ourselves of just how far Democrats have shifted to the Left on the subject of illegal immigration in a very short space of time.
Twelve years ago, this is what then-Senator Barack Obama had to say on the subject:
“When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”
Yes, Obama went on in his book The Audacity of Hope to emphasise that Americans should not act negatively on such feelings, but rather look positively on illegal immigrants seeking to become American. But to even make such a statement today would see any Democrat hounded out of the party and summarily labelled a racist or (at best) an unwitting tool of white supremacy.
In his 2017 essay in the Atlantic, “How The Democrats Lost Their Way On Immigration“, Peter Beinart hammered home the same point about this radical shift:
In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”
The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.
That is an extraordinary shift in the space of a decade, yet the Democrats are going into immigration negotiations with the Republican leadership as though the country is in lockstep with them in their leftward lurch toward de facto open borders when there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. And while the Republicans (thanks to Donald Trump) doubtless win the prize for ugliest turn in rhetoric on the subject of immigration, the Democrats by far and away win the award for most radical policy shift in a short space of time. This is an incredibly significant fact which still attracts far too little media scrutiny.
Ultimately, this debate is characterised by exaggeration, character smears and base emotional manipulation of the worst kind – and the excesses of one side only encourage the other to behave even more outrageously and irresponsibly in pursuit of their own goals.
For many years there was an eminently practical and workable compromise almost within reach, based on compassion for those illegal immigrants who have built model lives in America but tempered with a resolve to improve border security, immigration enforcement and to reduce both the push and pull factors which drive future unlawful immigration. But thanks to extremists on both sides – frankly childish activists who demand nothing less than 100 percent of their wishlist from a deeply divided country – and spineless political leaders of both parties too afraid to stand up to those voices of unreason, instead we find ourselves in this dismal position.
It is easy to pin all of the blame on President Trump; he certainly makes a large and inviting target. But when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump does not have a monopoly on irrational, uncompromising behaviour. And a more honest media would do a better job of reporting as much.
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The reason that the Democrats have become advocates of unlimited immigration is obvious: immigrants overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Anyone who doubts this only has to look at California.
Over the last fifty years, huge amounts of immigration – both legal and illegal – have utterly transformed the demographics of the state, to the point where it is now majority minority. As a result the California Republican party has become an irrelevance, with no Republican holding statewide office. Before he was president, between 1967 and 1975, Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Nowadays it’s inconceivable a man like Reagan could be elected governor there. The state is well to the left of the rest of America on just about any issue, to the point where it’s regularly and insultingly referred to as Kommiefornia on some right-wing blogs.
Responding to British Awakening and your reply to him, the left has undoubtedly changed, but perhaps not quite in the way he supposes. (Obviously I’m now talking about the UK, but much the same holds true for America.) While they are doubtless an element, the modern left is not all middle class Fabians who despise the working-classes. Among other things, the traditional left fought for higher pay for the workers. (Bernie Sanders is clearly traditional left, hence his initial opposition to immigration, which you mentioned.) But as their pay got higher, the workers got more aspirational and stopped voting left wing – the ungrateful swine! (The skilled working classes were a crucial component of Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory in 1979.)
Clearly, a change of plan by the left was needed: hence their embrace of immigration. The immigrants themselves were a natural left-wing constituency, while the fact that they forced down wages among the native population was viewed as a feature, not a bug – as the software people say. By promising those whose wages had been lowered various government benefits, the left guaranteed they would remain reliable left-wing voters.
It’s a win-win situation – at least for the left, if not the country in general.
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Yes, I think that this is a very good summary of what has transpired in recent decades. One of the ironies I find interesting and even wryly amusing is that on the issues (besides immigration), many immigrants are far more natural conservatives than they are left-wing or progressive Democrats. On religiosity, family values, work ethic and more, many Hispanic and Latino immigrants would far more naturally fall on the right side of the ledger – but for that one awkward issue…
May I remind readers of Sam’s blog that something which would allow desperate people not to consider migrating would take the sting out of this polarization (but may nastily surprise those who don’t like immigration). I recommend a world basic income, but I am open to better suggestions.
I don’t think the world is ready for such a radical step as yet, Clive, primarily because people do not feel (because they are not) sufficiently part of the same demos or community to support the kind of vast income redistribution which would be required. If basic income is ever to be proven it will need to be in a small, fairly culturally homogeneous country, where there is the greatest chance of acceptance.
Not sure it is fair to hang this one of the left. The left and by that I mean the true left were fully aware that mass immigration was a tool the established elite liked to use to suppress the wages of the working class. The left has long since been taken over by Middle Class Fabians who despise the working class and have always preferred eugenics to get rid of them.
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Absolutely, and in Peter Beinart’s piece in the Atlantic (linked in my article) he offers up a great illustration of this, when Bernie Sanders initially reacted with shock and derision at the idea of open borders as a “Koch brothers idea”, a right wing libertarian idea to suppress wages and secure cheap labour, before having to execute a total 180 degree U-turn after relentless pressure from the Open Borders extremist SJW brigade.
When I said “the left” I was really referring to how left-wingery is currently expressed in the United States, which is through the Democratic Party, but you’re quite right that the old-school or true left would certainly have no truck with the Utopian fantasy currently being pushed by the Democratic activist base.
And yet, as you point out, Trump’s administration and the Republicans in Congress made the offer. Amnesty for 1.8 million illegal immigrants in return for tightened border security and immigration enforcement. The Democrats have been the hardliners in all this. Trump has behaved exactly as Scott Adams said he would – persuading, compromising and making deals.
If a generous offer is spurned, we have to ask ourselves both about the motives of the rejecting party and the consequences that may follow.
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Yes, I find it hard to reconcile the Democrats’ emotive, performative empathising with the plight of Dreamers (quite understandable in some ways, I have sympathy for their plight too) with the fact that they then threw those same people under the bus because they couldn’t secure a future flow of more illegal immigrants.
If this were purely an humanitarian issue, surely the Democrats should have jumped at the chance to provide 1.8 million people with nearly immediate relief from the stress and uncertainty of a life lived permanently in the shadows. That they chose not to do so shows just how far they are overreaching and just what an extreme position they have moved to on immigration.
Again, the Republicans are not blameless when it comes to gridlock on immigration, historically speaking. But in this case, the Democrats are the ones who spurned a potential deal.
This is a little trick that UK EU Remainers could learn from. To a swathe of people, the term ‘illegal immigrant’ although factual, is a tedious inconvenient obstacle to utopian dogma. It’s thereby replaced by the safe-sounding ‘undocumented migrant’. (Albeit, I note from watching the BBC, that around 104% of people waiting in Calais to gain access to the UK are highly-qualified Medical staff – I just see no downside that a significant proportion of them can produce no documentary evidence they have any medical qualification in any respect? Why on earth would that be important?)
To take from that, that actual factual legal status is simply a nuisance easily bypassed, why do they not simply say of the EU that all UK citizens are ‘Untreatied Members’? By that route, similarly hand-in-hand with ‘undocumented migrant’, legal blocks are magically removed and every and all tenets of EU membership are returned without delay or diminution. Isn’t that what they call a ‘Eureka Moment’?
‘Untreatied Membership. Remember where you heard it first. Don’t all thank me at once, BTW….
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“Untreatied Membership”… that’s brilliant. And yes, your logic is impeccable – if the legal credentials of individuals to reside and conduct transactions in a country should not depend on a little scrap of paper proving permanent residency or citizenship, why should the UK be forced to cease trading with the EU on existing terms (single market, rules of origin etc.) while we secede from the various EU treaties? They’re just pieces of paper, after all. 🙂
On a serious note though, the wholesale adoption by the UK media of the term “undocumented”, only recently imported from the US, I think, is highly infuriating. The media wonder why they are so widely distrusted and yet they persist in adopting the language and outlook of one side while continually looking with scepticism on the other. People don’t like it, and are often infuriated by such behaviour, which sometimes then pushes them into the arms of far less scrupulous sources of information which confirm their own biases and provide an antidote to the bias of the mainstream media. When will the media realise that they themselves are one of the principal drivers of fake news?