Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

Southwest border encounters are at an all-time high, interior enforcement is at a ten-year low, illegal presence in the United States is no longer enough to warrant removal, and new restrictions on workplace enforcement against illegal workers are going into effect. David Shor has advice for Democrats: Don't talk about it.

The data scientist isn't opposed to the policies themselves so much as he views them as political liabilities. As he indicates to Ezra Klein, Hilary Clinton "lost because she raised the salience of immigration, when lots of voters in the Midwest disagreed with us." In Shor's and Klein's telling, Obama was careful to appeal to border-minded people (and ran against a pro-amnesty McCain); Romney helped Obama by being hesitant on the issue. Trump crushed Clinton on immigration but didn't focus on the issue as much in his losing campaign against Biden.

Klein's New York Times colleagues, David Leonhardt and Ross Douthat, weigh in. Leonhardt sees some own-goals:

In American politics today, Republicans often try to emphasize a set of social issues on which many Democrats — especially progressives who receive a lot of media attention — are to the left of public opinion.

"On immigration, some Democrats have become uncomfortable talking about almost any deportations or border security; most Americans, by contrast, favor immigration enforcement...

"...It's not that a majority of Americans necessarily favors the Republican positions on these issues. The problem for Democrats is that they have left themselves vulnerable to accusations of being extreme."

Douthat says the "shift away from tough enforcement — or at least its professed desire to make that shift — creates extra incentives for those surges to happen under Democratic presidents."

The demographer Joseph Chamie agrees, saying governments like the United States "seem reluctant to acknowledge that visa overstayers and unauthorized migrants don't expect to be deported. This expectation is largely based on the experiences of millions of unauthorized migrants permitted to live in host countries." And it won't get any easier, Chamie warns, with one billion people around the world hoping to migrate, and the United States being the top destination of choice. The United States should not be surprised when a border crisis occurs, Chamie adds, when the government encourages one:

Irrespective of one's views about offering a pathway to U.S. citizenship to unauthorized migrants, it should be clear that doing so sends a clear message to others who may consider illegal immigration in the future. Basically, it says that it doesn't matter whether you are residing in the country legally or illegally, because eventually the government will permit you to stay and provide a pathway to citizenship."

That, Peggy Noonan says, is why the border crisis isn't going to get better any time soon:

When people hear on the news that they'll be allowed to stay if they get here, they come."

Douthat concludes:

So in the long run — especially given climate change's likely effects on mass migration — there is no way for Democrats to have a stable policy that's pro-immigration under the law without first having a strategy to make the American border much more secure than it's been under the Biden administration to date. How to do that humanely is a policy challenge, but if you really want to court voters for whom the issue matters, you have to take the challenge seriously — because the problem makes itself salient, and it isn't going away."

Andrew Sullivan is critical of the politics and the policy:

We don't like to confront this ugly reality. But the moral hazard of easing the path of migrants into the US, and showing the rightful level of compassion and care, is that it incentivizes many more to come. And indeed the Biden administration was warned by both the Mexican and Panamanian governments, and by their own experts, that ending "Remain in Mexico" would trigger a flood of new migrants, because they knew if they could just get to the other side of the border, the odds of being deported are increasingly small. Biden ended the policy anyway....

"...the immigration debate reflects an elite that simply cannot imagine why most normal citizens think that enforcing a country's borders is not an exercise in white supremacist violence, but a core function of any basic government."

Pamela Denise Long, reinforces the point:

Many Black Americans find it counterproductive to advocate for open borders when Black Americans in particular compete with low wage workers for factory jobs, like at the Koch Foods chicken processing plants where an immigration raid led to higher wages and more jobs for the local Black community. And like many Americans, Black Americans now fight for retention and inclusion in high tech job environments—for which they now have to compete with visa recipients from other countries...

"...And this is not just a concern for our community; our fates are entwined with America's more broadly. America matters deeply to the average Black American. The United States is not just home, after all; it's a home that was financed and built by our blood and sweat equity. With centuries' old roots in the United States, Black Americans who are descendants of American slaves are one of few American demographics who were not voluntary immigrants, yet we continue to choose America, day after day....

"....Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would have access to the American Dream. But in the meantime, America owes a huge debt to descendants of American slaves. We are overdue a large portion of the American pie, yet we are expected to watch—even applaud—as it's sometimes served up to people from other countries."

"Should the party moderate? Should the party push left? How should it accomplish either?" Freddie deBoer questions whether any hot-button issue can be discussed when the rules of the conversation (what is and is not allowed to be discussed) within the left-of-center movement are rigged against so many Democratic voters:

Say, people with some college but no degree, Black, middle aged, middle class, and far more conservative than the average Twitter liberal, favoring "commonsense" abortion restrictions, opposed to major policing reductions, vaguely worried about deficits and taxes, and deeply skeptical about mass immigration...

"...Black Democrats have been perhaps the most conservative element of the party since the formation of the modern Democratic coalition, but this fact is inconvenient for those who both claim to speak ex cathedra when discussing racial justice and who hold policy positions far to the left of most Black Democrats. So they just ignore the reality of who favors further-left positions among Democrats, and if you try to bring the reality to their attention, you get white men calling you a white man at best and a digital mob trying to declare you a permanent untouchable at worst. So how can we have the immensely important debates we need to have, under those conditions? In so many domains, the left-of-center is hamstrung by a punishingly narrow range of acceptable positions, a mass assumption of bad faith, and a refusal to insist that everyone play by the same rules.

"These conditions leave us unable to have frank and uncomfortable conversations when we need to have them."

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Sustainability Initiative for NumbersUSA

Updated: Tue, Nov 16th 2021 @ 4:20pm EST

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