Democrats Risk Committing Electoral Suicide Over Immigration
Pop quiz! Which politician said "We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked." Donald Trump? Mitch McConnell?
Nope. Try Barack Obama. The 44th president, who was once called the "deporter in chief" for returning so many illegal immigrants to their home nations, won two resounding victories by pursuing centrist immigration policies that didn't repel moderate voters.
Unfortunately, today's Democratic politicians — even the supposedly moderate Joe Biden — have rejected Obama's pragmatism and embraced extremist open-borders policies.
This could prove toxic in the 2020 general election. Although Biden currently leads in the polls, the race is tightening as November approaches. And David Shor, who served as one of President Obama's top elections and polling analysts, recently warned his fellow Democrats that their immigration policy proposals are a turnoff to swing voters.
Until relatively recently, elected Democrats freely condemned illegal immigration. In 2014, Hillary Clinton asserted "you have to control your borders" and bragged that she voted multiple times as a senator to build a border wall. A decade ago, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stated "illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once said "we certainly do not want any more [illegal immigrants] coming in."
Such commonsense rhetoric and policies have vanished.
Joe Biden recently unveiled a sweeping immigration plan that'd halt all deportations for the first three months of his presidency, offer a pathway to citizenship to almost 12 million illegal aliens, and grant subsidized health insurance to 3 million of them.
He also plans to greatly increase the number of employment-based green cards issued each year and expand the H-1B guest worker program.
The former vice president's running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, takes a similar tack. Not only has she voiced support for sanctuary cities, but she also wants to decriminalize border crossings and make it easier for employers to hire foreigners over American citizens.
Once moderate voters learn more about these proposals, they'll recoil. Independent voters oppose amnestying all illegal immigrants by a 53-39 margin, according to a Rasmussen poll conducted in July. And 46 percent of independents want to cut legal immigration to 750,000 or less, down from its pre-COVID level of 1.1 million annually. Just 18 percent want to boost it to 1.5 million or more, as Biden's plan would do.
And most Americans want to proactively crack down on illegal immigration.
For instance, there's widespread support for E-Verify, a free online tool that instantly determines the work-authorization status of new employees. Forty-six percent of Democrats, and 64 percent of independents, support a government mandate requiring all employers to use E-Verify. Just 34 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents oppose such a mandate. Yet Biden's official plan doesn't even mention the tool, much less call for making it compulsory for all employers.
It's not hard to see why independents, and even many Democrats, dislike high levels of immigration. Since many foreign workers lack advanced English skills and educations, they typically flock to jobs in blue-collar or service industries. As a result, the size of the lower-skilled workforce has grown 25 percent in the past 20 years. This has greatly affected less educated and skilled Black workers.
This competition depresses wages. When immigration causes a 10 percent increase in the size of a certain subset of the labor force — say, workers with only high-school educations — wages in that group decline by at least 3 percent, according to Harvard economist George Borjas.
COVID-19 has exacerbated these pre-existing problems. With 17 million Americans out of work, and over 1 million more losing their jobs each week, citizens shouldn't have to compete against millions of foreigners.
If Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats want to defeat Donald Trump, they'd be wise to start paying attention to the moderate voters who want less, not more, immigration. Otherwise, they risk blowing this election.
Frank L. Morris, Sr. serves as Chairman of Progressives for Immigration Reform. Dr. Morris is the former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a member of the Sierra Club, and a retired professor who earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from MIT and a Master’s in International Affairs from Georgetown University.