Civil War on the Left, Part 41: Democrats and Immigration

Peter Beinart, a smart center-left writer once affiliated with The New Republic before it went crazy, nowadays is at The Atlantic, and he has a barn-burner of an essay out today on the subject, “How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration.” It is a long article, but very much worth reading the whole thing.

The point is, Beinart honestly confronts the craven partisan political calculation behind the liberal line on immigration, and he goes through the serious substantive economic and social reasons why liberals should be in favor of managing immigration in the interests of American workers—as they did not that long ago.

Some excerpts:

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

I had no ideas these leading liberals were such xenophobic racists. Worth quoting back to your liberal friends.

Why did liberals change their mind? It doesn’t take Captain Obvious to know, but Beinart risks his liberal street cred anyway:

A larger explanation is political. Between 2008 and 2016, Democrats became more and more confident that the country’s growing Latino population gave the party an electoral edge. To win the presidency, Democrats convinced themselves, they didn’t need to reassure white people skeptical of immigration so long as they turned out their Latino base. “The fastest-growing sector of the American electorate stampeded toward the Democrats this November,” Salon declared after Obama’s 2008 win. “If that pattern continues, the GOP is doomed to 40 years of wandering in a desert.”

As the Democrats grew more reliant on Latino votes, they were more influenced by pro-immigrant activism. While Obama was running for reelection, immigrants’-rights advocates launched protests against the administration’s deportation practices; these protests culminated, in June 2012, in a sit-in at an Obama campaign office in Denver. Ten days later, the administration announced that it would defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16 and met various other criteria. Obama, The New York Times noted, “was facing growing pressure from Latino leaders and Democrats who warned that because of his harsh immigration enforcement, his support was lagging among Latinos who could be crucial voters in his race for re-election.”

From here Beinart recalls how Bernie Sanders was forced to backtrack on his immigration skepticism in 2015 (Sanders called open borders “a Koch brothers idea”—heh), and goes through some of the serious scholarship—much of it from prominent liberals like Harvard’s Robert Putnam—that assesses the economic and social costs of uncontrolled immigration. For entertaining these taboo subjects, Beinart is sure to get hammered. Especially about his conclusion:

In 2014, the University of California listed melting pot as a term it considered a “microaggression.” What if Hillary Clinton had traveled to one of its campuses and called that absurd? What if she had challenged elite universities to celebrate not merely multiculturalism and globalization but Americanness? What if she had said more boldly that the slowing rate of English-language acquisition was a problem she was determined to solve? What if she had acknowledged the challenges that mass immigration brings, and then insisted that Americans could overcome those challenges by focusing not on what makes them different but on what makes them the same?

Some on the left would have howled. But I suspect that Clinton would be president today.

Pass the popcorn.

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