Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Democrats' Bind on Immigration

The Democrats are in a serious bind on immigration and they'd better become adept at learning how to lessen its grip.

Thomas B. Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University and an op-ed contributor to The New York Times, specializes in telling truth to Democrats. (I was going to say "telling truth to power," but I couldn't think of any Democrat who has any power.) 

In a February 2017 op-ed piece, in The New York TimesThe Democrats’ Immigration Problem,  Mr. Edsall comprehensively demonstrates that Democrats are in a bind on immigration. 

In the July/August issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart, a liberal professor and writer, wrote much the same, in How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration

Both should be required reading by Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, and their political backers, in 2018. But get ready: hordes of millennials won't like the message. 

While national polls show majority support for granting eventual legal status or citizenship to undocumented immigrants, there are at least three structural problems facing Democrats: first, there is less support for this position among African-Americans than among other Democrats; second, the immigration issue is less important for those who support the Democratic position than for those in opposition; and third, white voters are much less likely than non-whites to oppose those policies. 

Then there is another problem: when Democrats talk about "immigration," they're typically talking about the effects of deportation of illegal (or "undocumented") aliens on families, children, etc., or of "discrimination" in immigration policies on Hispanics, but when Republicans talk about "immigration," they're typically talking about violations of law, an increase in the numbers of non-whites in their communities, and jobs taken from Americans by "illegals." Since voters tend to be more easily roused by fear than by humaneness, the Republican approach is more potent, even if, in the long run, they are being unrealistic in making believe that illegal/undocumented immigrants are going to disappear. 

On its face, this analysis suggests that, in a general election, Democrats should not make "immigration" an important campaign issue unless the specific district in which they are running favors that approach. 

The problem in 2018 will be that Democrats seeking to run in swing districts will likely be facing a primary. For example, in the race for the seat made open by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's retirement, FL-27, there are currently seven candidates, several of whom are likely to have enough money and name recognition to make a serious run. Whether a candidate can win that primary without emphasizing positions likely to incite turnout is problematic. 

The Republicans repeat their mantras--illegal immigration is just that--illegal--and nations must protect their borders. These slogans may seem noxious when they come from the mouths of Republican hypocrites who know damned well that real estate contractors and farmers and lawn care companies would suffer financially if they couldn't hire illegal immigrants, but the fact that Republicans have cynically exploited those slogans doesn't make them wrong

The Democratic establishment will say that they incorporate the need for border security into their "pitch" on immigration, but you have to look hard before you find that nugget. 

  • Take the 2016 Democratic Platform: it said not a word about the need for border security and carefully avoided the word "illegal." 
  • Or take the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's position: "Demand Comprehensive Immigration Reform! Donald Trump and his Republicans want to build a wall and deport millions of hardworking immigrants. Sign on to take a stand against their xenophobia now." 
  • Or take the Democratic National Committee's statement on immigration: "Democrats are fighting for every immigrant who feels threatened by Donald Trump’s election. We will not stand by and watch families be torn apart — Democrats in Congress and in states and cities across the country are already standing up to Trump’s hatred and bigotry to defend their immigrant neighbors." Yes, there's this pass at covering all fronts--"Democrats will continue to work toward comprehensive immigration reform that fixes our nation’s broken immigration system, improves border security, prioritizes enforcement so we are targeting criminals - not families, keeps families together, and strengthens our economy."--but who's kidding whom? 

In fact, some Democrats claim that unauthorized entry into the U.S. is not a crime. But it is: entry by an alien other than as authorized by an immigration agent is a crime punishable, in the case of a first-time offense, by up to six months imprisonment. 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(1).Yes, it's a misdemeanor, but why deny that it's a crime? 

Yes, immigration is a complicated, heart-rending issue. But failing to recognize the compelling power of inconvenient facts is self-defeating. If Democratic voters are not capable of understanding the need to throw Republican rhetoric back at them, then they deserve to remain in their powerless state.

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