These days it’s easy to get the feeling that we’ve been having an ideological battle over illegal immigration for as long as there have been politicians. Conservatives want to secure the borders, deport the illegal aliens and enforce the law. Liberals would prefer to do basically the opposite on all three points. But it wasn’t always this way. Please head over to The Atlantic when you get a moment and read this surprising piece from self-professed liberal Peter Beinart. Titled, How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration, Peter provides a refreshing walk down memory lane from a time not that long ago when Democrats and progressive authors were singing a very different tune. Here’s one of the prime examples. (Emphasis added)
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.
Given the current climate we’re battling in today, isn’t that rather remarkable? Glenn Greenwald carping about illegal immigrants wreaking havoc on our culture. Paul Krugman (of all people) calling for a reduction in the importation of low-skill immigrants? Say it isn’t so! And Barack Obama himself complaining when the guy rotating his tires speaks Spanish. Who could have guessed?
Well anyone, really. Those were common sense complaints shared by frustrated people around the country and the Democrats were in tune with that. And really, not all that much has changed. Beinart goes on to dig up some immigration numbers and reminds us that there are still proportionately the same number of illegal immigrants in the country today as there were back then. So why the change in heart? You don’t suppose it could have something to do with… politics, do you? (Cue the dramatic hamster music.)
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.”
None of this is really new information, but it’s refreshing to hear it from someone who experienced the transition from the left side of the bus. These were cynical political calculations from the DNC leadership which were designed to win elections. Fair enough, right? That’s what the two parties do. But once the genie was out of the bottle, the Democrats probably learned that it wasn’t something they could undo. They now have their young voters of all demographics totally wound up in high gear to the point where they don’t even want a fence on the southern border. If a little bit of illegal immigration is good, an unrestricted flood of it must be absolutely fantastic, right?
The problem is, that turned out to be a hard product to sell. They didn’t just anger the white voters they thought they could take for granted. They even riled up the unions who still don’t want any lower wage competition, as well as a percentage of the legal immigrants who went through all the steps to become Americans the right way and didn’t like seeing people cutting the line.
And that’s how you got Trump. Well… at least to a certain degree.