"In the past decade, liberals have avoided inconvenient truths about the issue."
"The myth, which liberals like myself find tempting, is that only the right has changed. In June 2015, we tell ourselves, Donald Trump rode down his golden escalator and pretty soon nativism, long a feature of conservative politics, had engulfed it. But that’s not the full story. If the right has grown more nationalistic, the left has grown less so. A decade ago, liberals publicly questioned immigration in ways that would shock many progressives today.
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 (2006), a Democratic senator wrote, "When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration 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.
Prominent liberals didn’t oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America’s economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, “immigration is an intensely painful topic…because it places basic principles in conflict.”
Today, little of that ambivalence remains. In 2008, the Democratic platform called undocumented immigrants “our neighbors.” But it also warned, “We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked,” adding that “those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law.” By 2016, such language was gone. The party’s platform described America’s immigration system as a problem, but not illegal immigration itself.
And it focused almost entirely on the forms of immigration enforcement that Democrats opposed. In its immigration section, the 2008 platform referred three times to people entering the country “illegally.” The immigration section of the 2016 platform didn't use the word illegal, or any variation of it, at all
“A decade or two ago,” says Jason Furman, a former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, “Democrats were divided on immigration. Now everyone agrees and is passionate and thinks very little about any potential downsides.” How did this come to be?
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.”
Alongside pressure from pro-immigrant activists came pressure from corporate America, especially the Democrat-aligned tech industry, which uses the H-1B visa program to import workers. In 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with the CEOs of companies including Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, Disney, and News Corporation, formed New American Economy to advocate for business-friendly immigration policies. Three years later, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates helped found FWD.us to promote a similar agenda.
This combination of Latino and corporate activism made it perilous for Democrats to discuss immigration’s costs, as Bernie Sanders learned the hard way. In July 2015, two months after officially announcing his candidacy for president, Sanders was interviewed by Ezra Klein, the editor in chief of Vox. Klein asked whether, in order to fight global poverty, the U.S. should consider “sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders.” Sanders reacted with horror.
“That’s a Koch brothers proposal,” he scoffed. He went on to insist that “right-wing people in this country would love…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.”...
Unfortunately, while admitting poor immigrants makes redistributing wealth more necessary, it also makes it harder, at least in the short term. By some estimates, immigrants, who are poorer on average than native-born Americans and have larger families, receive more in government services than they pay in taxes. According to the National Academies report, immigrant-headed families with children are 15 percentage points more likely to rely on food assistance, and 12 points more likely to rely on Medicaid, than other families with children....These costs strain the very welfare state that liberals want to expand in order to help those native-born Americans with whom immigrants compete....
Liberal immigration policy must work to ensure that immigrants do not occupy a separate legal caste. This means opposing the guest-worker programs-beloved by many Democrat-friendly tech companies,, among other employers—that require immigrants to work in a particular job to remain in the U.S. Some scholars believe such programs drive down wages; they certainly inhibit assimilation."...