Poverty, unemployment and the environment used to be top priorities for Democrats. We depended upon Democrats to protect workers from unfair labor practices and minimize wealth disparities. Recognizing the impact of immigration numbers on all these goals, Democratic leadership once called for strict enforcement and meaningful reductions.
Here are several prominent examples:
President Bill Clinton said during his 1995 State of the Union address: “All Americans … are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders … cracking down on illegal hiring, [and] by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.”
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid wrote in a 1995 Los Angeles Times column touting his bill to double border patrol, accelerate deportation and slash legal immigration: “Taxpayers simply cannot continue to sustain new populations the size of San Diego or the state of Nevada every year.”
Barbara Jordan, a former U.S. representative, civil rights icon, and chair of Clinton’s U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, said during 1994 testimony before Congress: “As a nation of immigrants committed to the rule of law, this country must set limits on who can enter and back up these limits with effective enforcement of our immigration law. … As far as immigration policy is concerned, credibility can be measured by a simple yardstick: people who should get in, get in; people who should not enter are kept out; and people who are deportable should be required to leave.”
Robert Reich, who served as secretary of labor under Clinton, said in a 2004 article: “The only reason any job remains unfilled is because the wage is too low. Require it to be filled with an American and employers have to raise the wage. But if they can get legal guest workers, they won’t.”
Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate, economist and New York Times columnist, wrote in a 2006 column: “It is intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that ‘immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do.’ The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays, and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.”
Krugman wrote in a 2010 blog post: “Open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.”
Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. senator and founder of Earth Day, said in a 2001 interview: “It’s phony to say, ‘I’m for the environment, but not for limiting immigration.’”
The New York Times wrote in a 2000 editorial: “The primary problem with amnesties is that they beget more illegal immigration.”
Congress has created multiple blue ribbon commissions of experts to study immigration and refugee policy, wisely removing this hugely contentious issue from the political arena where powerful lobbies have driven legislation and political narrative: President Clinton’s U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, the U.S. Commission on Agriculture, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy — to name a few. All of these commissions offered the same recommendations: reduce legal immigration, enforce immigration laws, and beware of the unintended consequences of guest worker programs.
Over the last two decades, Democrats largely ignored the experts they chose to consult.
Instead, they did a U-turn on immigration, embracing the open borders, multiple amnesties, free trade, global agenda of billionaire donors. Democrats simply aren’t the same party they used to be.
A friendly press has provided cover for years by avoiding uncomfortable data about immigration, regarding labor impacts, taxpayer costs. Instead, the public was given a steady diet of happy-talk personal stories, shallow slogans and unsubstantiated claims from self-interested players who profit from the new agenda. And virtually no coverage of congressional commissions and the betrayal of American workers.
Donald Trump’s win is a wake up call. Will Democrats recommit to their traditional priorities and a truly inclusive platform? Right now, the pleasure of feeling morally superior to Trump is intoxicating. Let’s hope they can get beyond it.
Jonette Christian of Holden is a founder of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.