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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: Time for Democrats To Get Their House in Order on the Immigration Issue

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Once it comes time to face Donald Trump in the general election, Democrats will need much clearer and more salable positions on immigration than the ones Democratic candidates drifted into in the primary season. Otherwise, Trump will do real damage to the Democratic nominee on the issue.

Jason DeParle of The New York Times sets up the problem well:

“Plunge into the progressive discourse on immigration, and you’ll quickly hear that it’s not enough just to legalize America’s 11 million unauthorized migrants, however cherished the goal may be and however long it has eluded reach.

Outraged at a president who has gone as far as seizing toddlers from their undocumented parents, a progressive vanguard seeks to decriminalize border crossing, ban deportations, end detention, “abolish ICE” (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) and make undocumented migrants eligible for government aid.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the progressive standard-bearer, likens detention facilities to “concentration camps.” Eight advocacy groups have released an immigration plan they call “Free to Move, Free to Stay,” a slogan that suggests no limits.

Eager to court activists, whom they consider influential with the Latino vote, the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination have moved sharply left from the party’s norms. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont vows a moratorium on deportations and a move to “break up” ICE. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts joins him in pledging to make border crossings a civil, not criminal offense. Both candidates include undocumented migrants in their plans for universal health insurance (as did the former mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, a moderate who recently left the race).”

As DeParle notes, none of these positions are necessary ones to take if you want to oppose Trump’s cruelty at the border and find a humane way to deal with undocumented immigrants who are already here. In fact, by shifting the conversation to ideas that are massively unpopular with the American public, advocates actually make it harder to achieve these goals.

And such ideas certainly make it harder for Democrats to focus on what they actually need to do: make a positive case for immigration that recognizes the need for limits and border security and outlines a new immigration system to manage immigration flows over the long term to benefit the country.

DeParle quotes Charles Kamasaki of UnidosUS:

“We can’t make progress without acknowledging the legitimacy of basic immigrant enforcement, and that means some people who come here unlawfully will have to be returned,” he said.

In his recent book, “Immigration Reform,” Mr. Kamasaki, who has worked for migrant rights for nearly 40 years, advises other progressives to moderate their tone — to seek bipartisan compromise, avoid assuming all opponents are racist, and question whether “unfettered immigration is necessarily in their community’s interest.” (UnidosUS itself has subtly broadened its image, dropping “La Raza,” sometimes translated as “the race,” for a name that evokes national unity.)”

But such sensible views are remarkably lacking among the various advocates DeParle talks to, who take one nutty position after another on various immigration issues. You read through them and just shake your head: what planet are these people living on?

The Democratic nominee in 2020 needs to decisively reject the open borders talk and utter lack of realism on border security and what a workable immigration system might look like that appears to dominate these advocates’ thinking. Otherwise Trump will have a field day and immigrants will be worse off, not better off.

Trump won’t stop talking and tweeting about them. But when it comes to immigration, what do Democrats actually believe?

2 comments on “Teixeira: Time for Democrats To Get Their House in Order on the Immigration Issue

  1. Annla on

    Yes! My number one complaint against the democrats. How difficult would it be to say, “we need better boarder security and to approve more legal immigrants each year.”

  2. MartinLawford on

    Why are “unauthorized migrants” unauthorized? The same reason “undocumented immigrants” are undocumented. It is because they are illegal immigrants. It is possible to convince a reasonable man with straight talk. But, you cannot do it with doubletalk because he recognizes it instantly and distrusts you immediately. We need straight talk on illegal immigration, not euphemisms and doubletalk.


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