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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New TDS Memo on How to Talk to Working-Class Voters About Immigration

Donald Trump’s blatant and vicious appeal to pure prejudice regarding immigrants and immigration has led many progressives and Democrats to respond in an equally categorical way, describing all objections to immigration as simply a smokescreen for racism.

Since opinion polls have consistently shown that most Americans are not bitterly anti-immigrant and do not support draconian measures like mass deportation, this reaction does not immediately seem to present a major problem for Democrats in 2020.

But, in fact, it does. While most Americans do not share Trump’s visceral loathing of Latin Americans and actually support a range of positive measures such as providing a path to citizenship for long time, law-abiding undocumented immigrants, a very substantial group also supports the demand that America regain control of the southern border and prevent further “illegal” immigration.

Simply dismissing all these voters as racists who do not deserve any response other than condemnation is a profound mistake–one that will endanger Democratic hopes of winning the presidency in 2020 and almost certainly place the Senate entirely out of reach. Democrats need to provide a reasonable response to the concerns that do exist, particularly among working class Americans.

To meet this challenge, the Democratic Strategist presents the following TDS Strategy Memo:Democrats need to understand how to talk to working class voters about immigration–and not just dismiss them as racists.

7 comments on “New TDS Memo on How to Talk to Working-Class Voters About Immigration

  1. Watcher on

    This article was frustrating, in part because it ignores an important solution in one regard and perpetuates a myth in another.

    It is true that large numbers or workers will tend to depress wages. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to set a floor in terms of wages and working conditions for all applicants to avoid businesses using the most exploitable labor. The various campaigns for an increased minimum wage are encouraging. Interestingly, the push to eliminate or alter tipped wages may even be more effective because immigrants are so heavily concentrated in that sector. Bring up working standards and wages will make these jobs more attractive to white and black workers and will help the Latino and Asian people working there now.

    The issue of benefits needs more explanation to the general public. Illegal immigrants are NOT eligible for most Federal and state programs and this needs to be repeated as often as the truth that they are not even allowed to vote. Just like the renewed discussion of what an increase in the marginal tax really means, progressive need to counter the falsehoods that right wing and even centrist sources state. Why are there all these people speaking Spanish in line to receive Medicaid? It’s most likely because they are citizens. There are a few limited exceptions but I am waiting for compelling evidence that this loopholes are huge or there is fraud. From a federal government website message from 2014: “No federal funding to cover undocumented immigrants, except for payment for limited emergency services.” https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/outreach-and-enrollment/downloads/overview-of-eligibility-for-non-citizens-in-medicaid-and-chip.pdf

    I do believe there is a limit to the overall level of immigration but I don’t think we have reached it if we are concerning about having enough workers to support the future economy as the article mentions. The ultimate lose-lose situation (which of course is a libertarian/Republican dream) is many workers with no benefits. Given that immigration from Mexico is down, lets focus on the later.

    • Victor on

      On the better benefits and salaries issue

      1. Better salaries and benefits would increase the difference between wages in the US and other countries, thereby making it even more attractive. This is called the pull factor in immigration.

      2. Labor laws in the US are poorly enforced, with workplace inspections in particular being very infrequent. This is why the article calls for enforcing labor laws against employers.

      3. Levels of immigration are related to working conditions in the US and to enforcement of immigration laws. It may be true that current levels of immigration are low, but that doesn’t mean they will remain low forever. Conflicts in other countries are increasing and the number of potential immigrants is very high.

      On the issue of the strain of immigration on public finances

      1. This is probably the aspect that most liberals misunderstand and most pundit misrepresent. The working class understand how the strain works because they use public services more.

      2. Immigrants may not be eligible to all public programs, but they are eligible to a substantial proportion either directly or indirectly.

      3. Asylum seekers do receive some public benefits (including during the period their applicants are pending -which can take a lot of time and a very high proportion of which are rejected-).

      4. More important the children of immigrants receive a lot of public benefits, whether documented or undocumented (eg public education). Ordinary people don’t make a distinction between documented immigrants and their undocumented or native born children. Native born children though have access to many programs that benefit their parents (ie their parents administer the money that their children receive).

      5. Undocumented immigrants have indirect access to benefits for example via the use of hospital emergency rooms which are prohibited from turning away people.

      6. Another example is jails/prisons, regardless of whether immigrants commit more crimes or not. And of course detention centers and supervision of absconding.

      Most cost/benefit analysis for immigration don’t take into account the costs of native born children. The US is in this respect different to Europe where many countries don’t have soil citizenship.

      • Watcher on

        I will agree with you that enforcement of existing labor laws is crucial. In fact, some of the campaigns against tipped wages stems from the fact enforcement of a minimum wage (if tips fall below that level) has not been sufficient in the service industry.

        I don’t think increased wages and benefits will create much more of a pull because the rap against immigrants is that they settle for lower wages and thereby hurt all wage earners.

        Finally, you seem to be saying that the issue of benefits really comes down to emergency services. Sorry, I am not in favor of banning people from ER rooms or schools. Putting aside all moral arguments, the latter will help create a permanent precariat class which is not in anyone’s interest. In fact, that is probably why Europe has more social tensions over immigration that the US.

        Where the working class has succeeded in the past to improve things for themselves are the times they were able to mute ethnic, racial, and other differences (eg. skilled vs. unskilled). Pandering to resentments against others in the same economic boat or worse is not really a viable option. Yes, we have increased border security over the years (and probably a good thing) but that has not nipped xenophobia in the bud. Making sure there is a floor native and foreign born won’t fall through is a better answer all the way around.

        • Victor on

          That is the whole point of the article, which I don’t dispute.
          The fact that the proportion of the foreign born is near an all time can’t be ignored. It has positive consequences electorally, but in policy terms it is more complicated.
          I also agree that this is why Democrats must take both social and economic aspects equally seriously.
          Let’s see what the House produces, if anything.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    Why are “undocumented” immigrants undocumented? Because they are illegal immigrants. Speaking of their illegal conduct in euphemisms like “undocumented” or “unauthorized”, or ignoring the difference between legal immigrants and illegal ones, merely convinces the hearer that the speaker wants to evade the issue. If the Democrats want to speak credibly on this issue, the first thing they must do is abandon the doubletalk.


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