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Democrats Need Straight Talk On Immigration

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Democrats Need Straight Talk On Immigration


Donald Trump’s roundup of undocumented immigrants is cruel and racist in its execution. His plan to build a wall along the Mexican border would be a massive waste of at least 14 billion taxpayer dollars.

But that doesn’t give Democrats a free pass to fudge on the issue of illegal immigration. They need to say, “We support a generous immigration program, but people without the proper papers cannot come here and take jobs.”

Such a policy would not turn this country into a xenophobic police state. It would make the U.S. more like Canada and Australia, two pleasant democracies that take in large numbers of newcomers but don’t tolerate illegal immigration.

Democrats don’t say they’re for illegal immigration. But many finesse the subject by instead expressing support for comprehensive immigration reform. As policy, that’s a sensible stance: Legalize most of the undocumented immigrants while ensuring enforcement of the law going forward.

But “comprehensive reform” is too indirect a term. Democrats must say outright that illegal immigration is not OK. It’s a problem.

A bipartisan bill for such reform passed the Senate but was killed in the House. It would have forced all employers to use the E-Verify system, a database that confirms the right of new hires to work here. The place to enforce the immigration laws is the employment office, not the Mexican border. Over 40 percent of unauthorized workers arrived legally (many by air), but then overstayed their visas.

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly open to immigration and greatly opposed to illegal immigration. Candidate Hillary Clinton did herself no favors by all but ignoring the difference.

Some diversity liberals join with cheap-labor conservatives in arguing (implausibly) that a massive influx of low-skilled workers hasn’t hurt the job prospects or pay of low-skilled American workers. They generally avoid the question of why the low-paying jobs that Americans allegedly don’t want to do are low-paying.

Interestingly, Bernie Sanders has drawn some liberal fire for discarding that nonsense. Citing the real unemployment numbers for recent high-school graduates — 33 percent for whites, 36 percent for Hispanics, 51 percent for African-Americans — Sanders told an interviewer: “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?”

The Trump approach, meanwhile, is long on spectacle, short on humanity. Here’s what else is wrong with it:

  • The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. peaked in 2007 and has been coming down ever since. So, this is not a crisis that couldn’t be handled with the gentler comprehensive reform.
  • More Mexicans have been leaving than are coming in. Trump’s wall folly seems like just another opportunity to beat up on brown people.
  • Most unauthorized immigrants are now from countries other than Mexico. Asia currently accounts for the highest growth rate in unauthorized immigration.
  • Hiring undocumented workers happens to be illegal, but Trump isn’t arresting the employers. (Trump himself got away with using an illegal workforce while building Trump Tower.)

But here are some truths that Democrats must heed:

Some 77 percent of Americans support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, according to the American Values Atlas. But a Harvard-Harris poll shows a huge majority (80 percent) opposed to sanctuary cities — municipalities that don’t let local police report undocumented immigrants they encounter to federal agents.

Clearly, the issue isn’t pro-immigrant versus anti-immigrant. The issue is legal immigration versus illegal immigration.

The open borders position, Sanders explained, “says, essentially, there is no United States.” The public wants there to be a United States that protects its workers. Democrats should agree with that — and out loud.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop.

IMAGE: A U.S. Border Patrol agent (C) looks on as people separated by immigration wait to see their relatives at an open gate on the fence along the Mexico and U.S border, as photographed from Tijuana, Mexico February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. FireBaron February 28, 2017

    Interesting article, Froma, except you sort of ignored a couple of issues. If you look at a map you will see that Australia is a single continent. The only way to arrive there are by sea or air. Do people overstay their visas? Probably. How do they handle it?
    Canada, on the other hand, only has a land border with the US. If so, how are they having a problem with illegals? Again, is it folks overstaying visas? Or have people from Detroit and Buffalo been sneaking in to take jobs away from Canadians?

    Ironically, the United States opened the door to illegal immigration back when Castro first took over Cuba. Once our DoJ initiated the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy regarding illegal Cuban immigrants, we effectively said “we will enforce the immigration rules unless we decide to not enforce them because we cannot stand Comrade Fidel!”

    As a country, we need a uniform immigration policy applying to all countries. Individuals should be screened at the various embassies and consulates that issue visas to determine the validity of the entrant under which visa program. Then the INS needs to have a more secure, but less intrusive, way to track immigrants once here in the country. Effectively, the 9/11 terrorists went off the grid and INS had no idea where they were or that they were taking flying lessons.

    1. mike February 28, 2017

      You mean the DOJ under Clinton.
      The democrats continue to shoot themselves in the foot over illegals and open borders as Hillary secretly wanted.
      At last the laws on the books will be enforced which is well overdue.

    2. dtgraham February 28, 2017

      “how are they having a problem with illegals? Again, is it folks overstaying visas?”

      Canada has a situation right now with asylum seekers coming north over the U.S. border in numbers not seen before. Several times the norm. This is attributable to Trump’s executive orders suspending refugee claims, barring people from those seven Muslim-majority countries, and other mass deportations already taking place. The crossings are expected to only intensify when the weather warms up.

      Complicating things is the poorly designed Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has been in effect for more than 12 years. It prohibits most people arriving at a Canadian land border crossing from making a refugee claim, on the premise that the U.S. is a perfectly good place to claim asylum as well. The idea is, people have to apply in the country they arrive in first. The STCA was negotiated between Ottawa and Washington after 9/11, when there was a surge of Muslim Americans coming across the border into Canada.

      The STCA though only applies to any person who arrives at a land border port of entry. So it encourages the determined to simply go around those ports of entry. If someone crosses in a field, the STCA would not apply to them. That’s been happening a lot. Also, anyone who can plant his feet on Canadian soil is at least entitled to make a claim for asylum.

      They’re being looked after and given medical care in the short term and refugee groups are also pitching in, but I don’t know how it’s going to play out in the longer term for them.

  2. I of John March 1, 2017

    Both parties need to work together on this in order to solve it. But dems have already given too much ground to republicans. The GOP stopped compromising years ago so they must give ground first rather than rolling over the dems position. The center of this country has shifted too far right within both parties and a correction is over due.


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