Where do Democrats go from here on immigration? Thomas Edsall gives that debate a nudge in his New York Times column.
Not long ago, the question would have seemed ridiculous. The Democratic Party stood united while Republicans seemed ready to self destruct over divisions between the business and the law-and-order wings of the GOP. But while the Republicans were having an intramural battle of ideas, Democratic leaders grew complacent, even over-confident that the debate was over.
Donald Trump fumbled his way into the subject with his notoriously inaccurate statements about unauthorized migrants from Mexico but wound up with an uncharacteristically (for his campaign) detailed policy outline by the time he won the nomination. The ideas in that document borrowed liberally - and ironically - from the bi-partisan Jordan Commission established during Bill Clinton's administration. By contrast, Hillary Clinton - whom Edsall writes was "under strong pressure" to move to the left of Obama - provided detailed policy prescriptions for just about every subject BUT immigration.
Trump won immigration voters 64-33 and Edsall says public opinion on immigration "played a crucial role" in the outcome of the election.
But this is no more the end of the debate than 2012 was. Attitudes will shift. Trump will go too far (or not far enough) in attempting to fulfill his promise to reform immigration in the interests of American workers. New leaders with new messaging will emerge. The pendulum will swing.
In the meantime, the Democratic Party has the opportunity to debate what it needs to do to eat in to that 64-33 split. Marc Farinella of the University of Chicago tells Edsall there could be "political rewards by giving voice to Americans' desire for fairness and concerns about cheating and safety....all they’ll have to do is sound reasonable, humane and compassionate."
Edsall doubts, however, that reasonable arguments about fairness would be effective in the age of Trump. It would be a shame if the Democratic Party arrived at the same conclusion. Based on the reader comments, a refreshed focus on "Americans' desire for fairness" would be welcomed by "Jordan reform" voters, perhaps enough for Democrats to put some of those two-time Obama voters who switched to Trump in November back in play.
One reader writes:
I am a Democrat and the only issue on which I disagree with my party is immigration...Having seen the desperation and gross inequality that arise in a society in which there are too many workers for every job, I am sensitive to any moves that will create the same conditions here...."
"I am a Bernie Sanders Democrat and I have been very frustrated with the Democratic Party's stance on illegal immigration. This isn't so much a left right issue, it is a class issue.....The moment I hear that a politician is going to go after the people who hire undocumented laborers, they will get my vote. Oh and how about restricting the H1B1 Visas too."
This reader noticed that the two above are part of a trend:
"All you have to do is read the bulk of comments in any story about unauthorized/undocumented immigration in the NY Times to see how Clinton lost on this issue. Many comments started with "I am a liberal" or "I am a democrat"....many of the comments were about the notion of fairness and the law. The NY Times comments were probably a good insight into what potential Clinton voters thought - and they were not on the same page as her. Was it enough for people not to vote for her? The article suggests "yes"."
Another sees a political reason for a more nuanced debate:
"Any immigration policy will have winners and losers. Edsall recognizes this, writing that the issue "pits groups with competing material interests against each other," and noting that African-Americans are significantly less supportive of mass immigration than some other Democratic constituencies.
"Remember those final, gut-wrenching moments on election night, while we waited to see final vote tallies from black neighborhoods in Detroit and Milwaukee? They didn't come through for Hillary. Perhaps her support for increasing immigration was part of the reason."
"Here is a radical idea for the Democrats (and anyone else, for that matter) - go out and talk to the people and find out what they want!"I believe that a substantial majority would support allowing those who have been here illegally for a long time, or who came as young children, to stay if they are not felons. They would support cutting back on the H1-B visas, that make it easy to reduce the pay of or to outsource IT jobs in particular. They would support cutting back or eliminating the EB-5 "buy your way in" visa. They would support restricting family unification to spouses and minor children. They would support a temporary worker program for agriculture. They would support getting tough on new arrivals. And finally they would support a well-run refugee program.
"In short, get support from the bottom up, and don't try to impose it from the top down, "Gang of Eight" style."And, make sure that the Democrats adopt the principal of "American Jobs, for American Workers, at American Wages.""
Another describes how what may seem reasonable to one American may be deeply unfair to another:
"Years ago, when I was in college, I lost a very good paying job to an illegal Mexican who would do it at half the price. My boss told me exactly that. I never found another summer job as good as at one. No problem, I was in college."
But what if I had had a family? What if that was my JOB?"
This reader says reform is also about giving amnestied workers a fair shot:
"My yardman immigrated illegally from Ecuador in the early 80s and received the Reagan amnesty. He voted for Trump. I asked him why. He said the endless streams of Mexican and Central American labor had destroyed his earnings."
"When a working class individual sees a group of undocumented workers standing on a street corner waiting for day jobs, he knows that they are working for lower wages than he expects to be paid....I would maintain that further impoverishing workers in our own country is not the way forward...."
There is a strong sense that the system is rigged:
"Simple. The 1% who finance both the Democratic and Republican establishments have the unspoken cozy quid pro quo: unlimited immigration -- forget about whether or not it's legal or illegal immigration (lump it all under one big "either you're for immigration or your against it" canard) so the New Age/Group Identity Dems get the cheap votes and the 1% which funds both the Dem and Republican establishment exploits the cheap labor...."
"It's in the interest of corporations and the political donor class to be sure that the labor market is slack to keep wages low. Tighten the labor market, let wages rise, and I think you might be surprised at the work people of all colors will be willing to do when it's financially worth their while."
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Wed, Mar 8th 2017 @ 8:45am EST