Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders got a lot of media attention this week for a statement that most Americans would find totally non-controversial. Sanders surprised interviewer Ezra Klein of Vox with a forceful rejection of an open-borders immigration policy. Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports:
Vox founder Ezra Klein, an advocate of an open-borders immigration policy, asked a question virtually inviting Sanders to agree with Klein about allowing any and all would-be immigrants to come to the United States. Sanders most emphatically did not go along.
Klein's question about "sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders" and Sanders' response comes at about the 5 minute, 50 second mark of the video interview and you can read the full transcript here. Excerpt:
You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...
Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.
Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...
But it would make ...
Excuse me ...
It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?
It would make everybody in America poorer -- you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.
You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you're a white high school graduate, it's 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?
I think from a moral responsibility we've got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer.
Sanders (who voted for the 2013 Senate bill to double immigration flows and says the legalization of the 11 million here illegally is "essential") is no reductionist. Much like Gov. Scott Walker a few months ago, he merely suggested that U.S. immigration policy should continue to have numerical limitations -- and that those limits should be in the interests of American workers. And much like they did when Walker made his statement (read all about it: "Walker open to limits on legal immigration"!), the media reacted as if the concept of a limited immigration system was a novel idea from the fringe (read all about it: "Bernie Sanders Again Links Low Wages With Immigration"!).
A day after they published the Klein interview, Vox quickly issued a scathing retort from Dylan Matthews which begins: "If I could add one amendment to the Constitution, it would be the one Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert Bartley once proposed: 'There shall be open borders.'"
Matthews says Sanders' "fear of immigrant labor is ugly -- and wrongheaded." And in a tweet, he says "To be clear: opposing open borders means Bernie strongly supports entrenched global inequality."
It is often lost in the media's coverage of immigration, that anti-enforcement advocates are also against any limited immigration system. In essence, they are not pro-immigration (if by "immigration" we mean a system in which the U.S. decides who and how many are admitted to live and work in the country). They are pro-open borders.
The Huffington Post says Sanders is.
The public rejects open borders so advocates usually avoid attacking the idea of limits itself, preferring instead to attack people who endorse limits or work to give them credibility.
Matthews is open about his globalist preferences. But it is an unwritten rule in the mainstream media that you aren't supposed to discuss immigration limits. None of the Immigration Gang of Eight were questioned or forced to defend their plan to double immigration over ten years. But a politicians who endorses the very idea of limits gets immediate media push back.
The Washington Post's David Weigel reports that Sanders spoke at an Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event the day after the Klein interview ran, and "When reporters were invited to ask questions, all but one asked about immigration."
You can't say you're against open borders without raising eyebrows in the media.
None of the reporters asked the natural follow-up question: "If you're against open borders, what numerical limits would you put on immigration?" That would invite a conversation the media has gone to great lengths to avoid.
Instead, the questions echoed the globalist, open-borders response of Matthews:
A pro-immigration reform group backed by tech companies and tech entrepreneurs responding to your Vox interview yesterday. Very tough statement. They say in the headline that you are wrong on immigrants. They say that you're statements are troubling, that you falsely pit immigrants as obstacles to tackling unemployment and they are just plain wrong. So how do you respond to that and do you think immigrants can take jobs from Americans?
The "pro-immigration reform group" is FWD.us, a Mark Zuckerberg group that lobbies for immigration expansion, including visa programs American companies use to displace their U.S. workers. FWD.us appears in some of the Sanders coverage but their interests in programs like H-1B do not. The questioner above took the cue from FWD.us and changed the subject from Sanders being against open borders to being "wrong on immigrants." Clever.
The Huffington Post has a similar spin:
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders bristled on Thursday at the idea that his opposition to open borders and frequent criticism of employers’ exploitation of immigrant labor amounted to a dismissal of the good that immigration does the country.
In the media's paradigm, you're either for immigration or against it. There is no room in this paradigm for a discussion of limits.
Presumably, FWD.us wouldn't have written a scathing statement if they agreed with Sanders on open-borders. So are they an open-borders group? Do they support the U.S. system of limited immigration? Reporters don't ask these questions.
Weigel's story, at least, illuminates the fact that the goal for many advocates is about doing away with our system of limited immigration altogether:
Many progressives do believe in [open borders]. They've argued for it, in the face of opposition from many labor unions. In the run-up toSanders's appearance, Democrats who want to blunt his campaign had circulated the Vox interview and excerpts from his old statements about immigration and protectionism.
Sanders himself seems baffled at all of the attention his remarks have received:
"When you have 36 percent of Hispanic kids in this country who cant find jobs, and you bring a lot of unskilled workers into this country, what do you think happens to that 36 percent of kids who are today unemployed? Fifty-one percent of African-American kids? I don't think there's any presidential candidate, none, who thinks we should open up the borders."
MSNBC's Benji Sarlin also questions the media's reaction, tweeting: "I get @dylanmatt is making his own point, but this is a standard no politician in America meets or even comes close."
Sanders and Sarlin are right: No presidential candidate has voiced support for open borders. But has anyone asked them? If they don't support open borders, what changes (if any) to the current limits do they propose?
Most politicians would refuse to answer, which should tell reporters that it's the right question to ask. But such is the media's unease with the concept of immigration limits, that when a politician does raise the issue, they change the subject. And on that rare occasion when a politician offers a specific plan to reform the limits, the media ignores him.
While the media wondered out loud if it was possible for Bernie Sanders (or anyone) to oppose open borders and still like immigrants, Rick Santorum laid out the most specific immigration platform of any of the 2016 candidates, including this:
There are over one million legal immigrants coming into America each year, and most of my fellow Republican presidential candidates have proposed increasing this number even further. I don’t. I believe we need to reduce our legal immigration levels by 25%.
I believe immigration can be a very good thing. But as with anything, there can also be too much of a good thing. When our labor markets cannot manage the influx we are receiving, then it is time to recalibrate. This is not anti-immigrant, it is common-sense because stagnant wages and joblessness is not good for anyone regardless of race, gender, or immigration status.
Don't expect Santorum's message to get a lot of attention. The debate over immigration limits is a story the media has left for others to talk about.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 10:33am EST