Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who is polling under 3 percent nationally and is only at 4 percent in his home state, was asked this question in Saturday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate.
Republicans say the borders – securing borders is a top priority. Democrats say they want to plan for comprehensive immigration reform. So, Governor O’Malley, are you willing to compromise on this particular issue to focus on border security first in favor of keeping the country safe?
This is not a difficult question, and one that Democratic and Republican candidates alike have answered by first giving lip service to border security and then tying it to mass amnesty and major increases in annual legal admissions – emphasizing the former and playing down the latter. That is what “comprehensive immigration reform” has come to mean for the leaders of both political parties, and there has been growing resistance by the American voting public to such an approach because the promises to secure the border and enforce immigration law have all been broken for the past thirty years. And, as Mark Krikorian likes to point out, the same percentage of Americans believe in Bigfoot as want to increase immigration levels (7%, which is more than double the amount of Democratic voters who want to see O’Malley become president.)
The Republican candidates understand that the political landscape has shifted, which is why the leading candidates are emphasizing that the border will be secured and enforcement measures in place before any talk of amnesty. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush (and don’t forgot John Kasich) have supported immediate amnesty for illegal aliens but have tied the ability to gain citizenship to enforcement provisions being in place; but this isn’t translating into a groundswell of political support for them as it seems Americans, despite the media’s insistence to the contrary, are not keen on amnesty. Voters don't trust Rubio, et. al. on immigration, nor should they.
While the Republican top-tier candidates are moving on immigration to better align themselves with the political center, the Democrats are doing just the opposite. While no one is taking him seriously as a presidential contender, the way O’Malley answered the question on immigration is important because his position is the 2016 position of the Democratic party and it demonstrates just how far out of the mainstream the Democratic candidates have moved on immigration policy.
After completely dismissing border security as a topic worthy of serious discussion (and calling Donald Trump a “carnival barker”), O’Malley goes on to say:
The truth of the matter is, net immigration from Mexico last year was zero. Fact check me. Go ahead. Check it out. But the truth of the matter is, if we want wages to go up, we’ve got to get 11 million of our neighbors out of off the book shadow economy, and into the full light of an American economy. That’s what our parents and grandparents always did. That’s what we need to do as a nation.
Yes, we must protect our borders. But there is no substitute for having comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people, many of whom have known no other country but the United States of America. Our symbol is the Statue of Liberty. It is not a barbed wire fence.
O’Malley’s answer was yet further evidence of what we have seen emerge on the Democratic side this election cycle – that border security and effective interior enforcement are no longer concessions Democrats will make in order to get amnesty and higher levels of immigration going forward. It is now a compromise they appear unwilling to make, ever. For the candidates on the stage Saturday night, there is no border security issue, and illegal immigration is no longer a problem because they simply do not acknowledge it is occurring.
O’Malley issued a challenge to “fact-check” his assertion that “net immigration from Mexico last year was zero.” This isn’t too difficult to do. It’s not true, at least not according to available data. The real challenge is unpacking just how wrong his “fact” is in the context of his overall statement.
To be precise, O’Malley was referring to migration not immigration, though O’Malley generally makes no distinction between those who enter legally and those who do not. He also does not seem to understand that zero net migration is not the same as no migration. If net migration from Mexico (or any other country) is zero, this means that inflows and outflows are roughly equal so that the number of people living in the United States who were born in Mexico has remained about the same over a particular period of time.
It in unclear what O’Malley was basing his claim on, as even Politifact, in a tortured attempt to support O’Malley’s contention, pointed out that net migration from Mexico “actually rose slightly in 2014” (They rated his claim “Mostly True” because the level of migration last year was less than it was seven years ago. Their logic is difficult to follow until one understands that Politifact researchers always put the “political” before the “fact.”) What is clear is that O’Malley badly mangled the point he was trying to make – that illegal immigration is not a problem because there are less Mexican nationals living in the United States than there were at some point in the past.
It is true that following the recession, the total number of Mexicans living in the United States declined slightly. Pew Research found that the number of Mexicans living in the United States peaked in 2007 at 7 million. By 2011, that number was down to 6.1 million. But, the number of illegal aliens from Mexico increased from 5.6 million to 5.8 million during that period, according to Pew. What this tells us is that the total number of people coming from Mexico to the United States decreased immediately following the Great Recession, but illegal immigration continued, albeit below its peak level. O’Malley’s argument is based on his misunderstanding that all migration from Mexico was illegal, and all illegal immigration was from Mexico. Following his logic, since net immigration from Mexico has ceased, it is now time to stop paying attention to border security and to award 11 million illegal aliens with amnesty.
O’Malley’s argument is further undermined by the fact that there has been an increase the last decade in illegal immigration from Central America, and more illegal aliens are Chinese and Indian, many of whom came legally and overstayed their visas, which has made up for the drop-off from Mexico. With this taken into account, Hillary Clinton’s
answer response was arguably even worse than O’Malley’s. She stated that Obama's unconstitutional and illegal executive amnesties didn't go far enough, and while she did at least acknowledge that “border security has always been a part of [the immigration] debate,” she claimed that “net immigration from Mexico and South has basically zeroed out.” If by “South” she was referring to all countries south of Mexico, this statement was perhaps the most outrageously false claim any 2016 presidential candidate has made to date. (For his part, Bernie Sanders was asked another question relating to immigration and given a chance to address the effects of illegal immigration on wages, which he punted.)
Granted, O’Malley’s statement is not a howler, such as the ones Marco Rubio told about the Gang of Eight bill (is still telling?), but O’Malley’s statement is not factual. Yes, overall migration from Mexico to the United States has decreased since 2007, but the illegal alien population, despite “record deportations” by the Obama Administration, has remained steady since 2009 and is showing signs of increase. What is worse than O’Malley’s failure to get his facts straight is his unwillingness to acknowledge that illegal immigration is an ongoing problem; a problem President Obama’s policies have made worse. The reason net migration from Mexico decreased is in good measure due to less Mexicans coming illegally to the U.S. as the economy in Mexico has improved relative to ours; not because we’ve begun to take border security seriously.
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 10:21am EST