Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck
There has been widespread chatter among pundits on both the left and the right that the 2020 Democratic candidates have been moving too far left on immigration. In 2016, Trump trounced Clinton among immigration voters (negating her big advantage over him on the economy), and did better among Black and Hispanic voters than Romney in the process. Clinton vowed to be more expansive and less enforcement-minded than Obama and did worse with Black and Hispanic voters than her 2008 rival did in either of his winning campaigns. The 2020 Democratic candidates - including Biden and Sanders - have all moved as far or further than Clinton.

Sanders - who just a few years ago called open borders a "right-wing proposal" - has been pushed off of his position. Biden wasted no time attacking Sanders for his past immigration moderation at his Super Tuesday rally:

"We're going to provide a pathway. A pathway for 11 million citizens. If the other guy voted for the -- I shouldn't get into that."

Even before the Super Tuesday results, pundits across the political spectrum thought Bernie was blowing it on immigration.

"Bernie Sanders is making a big mistake," wrote David Leonhardt:

"[Sanders] was also once an heir to organized labor’s skepticism of large-scale immigration. “At a time when the middle class is shrinking, the last thing we need is to bring over in a period of years, millions of people into this country who are prepared to lower wages for American workers,” he said in 2007.

"Now, though, Sanders has evidently decided that progressives will no longer accept impurities — or even much tactical vagueness. He, along with Elizabeth Warren, has embraced policies that are popular on the left and nowhere else: a ban on fracking; the decriminalization of border crossings; the provision of federal health benefits to undocumented immigrants; the elimination of private health insurance."

Even Matt Yglesias (who favors big increases in immigration) said Sanders is blowing it on immigration, politically:

The Bernie (and Warren) policy stance that gives me the most electability worries is decriminalizing illegal entry rather than anything to do with “socialism.” He should get in touch with his inner restrictionist and just walk that back
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 13, 2020

Saagar Enjeti talked about how the primary process, specifically the media elite's umpiring of it, continues to drive candidates into ever more unpopular immigration positions.

Enjeti, co-host of The Rising, said Bernie Sanders' flip flop on immigration was "complete electoral folly" and predicted it would be the death knell of Bernie's campaign.

Andrew Sullivan called Sanders' evolution on immigration "insane."

Insane. Totally conceding the immigration control issue to Trump.
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) February 25, 2020

Did Sanders' drift on immigration hurt him in the primary?

"Some will say it was the fault of the woke who pushed Sanders toward fringier positions, especially on border enforcement," writes T. A. Frank.

Count Ryan Girdusky among them.

Cough *immigration* cough
— Ryan James Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) March 4, 2020

I'm inclined to doubt that immigration played a primary (no pun intended) role in Biden's big night or Sanders' bad showing, but Charles C.W. Cooke makes a compelling point:

Bernie is Bernie. It's one reason people like him. He is an unreconstructed socialist...[but he has] a propensity to change to suit the Democratic Party only on the questions that hurt him. So he felt free to come out and say 'well, you know, Fidel Castro is alright.' Fine. But he also changed to pick up a less heterodox and more unpopular gun control position; he changed to pick up an open borders position that he had previously denounced....I think Bernie is less appealing this time around because he's not the guy who says 'Right. I have believed in what I've believed for fifty years. I haven't changed my mind. I have a real core.' But he's a guy who has indulged some fads and has moved and so he's less interesting and less reliable, and his offering is less attractive. And I wonder like Michael [Brendan Dougherty] what he would have looked like if he had taken the Trump style view on trade [and] if he'd said 'Yeah, open borders are a Koch Brothers conspiracy'....but he didn't. And that I do think has hurt him.

With the March 10 Michigan primary shaping up to be a perhaps the crucial contest that will decide whether Sanders can continue to legitimately compete for the Democratic presidential nomination, it worth asking if his retreat from a pro-worker stance on immigration didn't hurt him in last week's state primaries. It seems unlikely he can tack back to the center on immigration, even if he were so inclined.

But will Republicans - who failed to moderate immigration levels or mandate E-Verify when they had the chance - make a clear enough distinction to take advantage of the opportunity to?

Praj Kulkarni says conservatives have committed "political malpractice":

We must stress how much African-Americans need policies like border security and e-Verify. More than any other group, they need a tight low-wage labor market, and will benefit from conservative immigration policies. Leftist immigration policies have a profound disparate impact against blacks, something we should repeat mercilessly.

Biden is already under pressure to pledge to end all deportations, even beyond the 100-day moratorium he's already promised. Meanwhile, Trump has apparently abandoned E-Verify. Let's see what the pundits make of that.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Updated: Mon, Mar 23rd 2020 @ 10:55am EDT

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