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Why Democrats Keep Caving on Immigration [Miles Culpepper / Jacobin]

July 12, 2019


See also, recent details of the unconscionable treatment of children in DHS detention centers:

Per recent polling, the top issues for voters are economy, health care, and immigration. Of these, immigration is a divisive issue for Democrats, and also one that I think is misunderstood in the context of trying to appeal to “moderates”.

The main article linked talks about Democrat’s badly mixed record, repeatedly turning their backs on working class immigrants, but then asking for the votes of their friends and families (for example, the Obama-Biden administration under DHS secretary Janet Napolitano dutifully implemented the awful Bush era plans and proceeded to deport a still-record rate of 400,000 immigrants per year, mostly non criminals, for Obama’s entire first term).

So the thing that I think is underappreciated in the story told in political media, is the connection between the desire for economic security, and willingness of “moderates” or “centrists” to go along with anti-immigrant policies.

More “hard” social-conservatives may well be anti-immigrant out of some fundamentally nationalist beliefs – but they are not a realistic audience for Democrats to appeal to anyway. “Moderates” on the other hand, especially Democrats and Independents with some lighter socially conservative sympathies, parse immigration as an economic-security item. Something grouped right next to offshoring of jobs under NAFTA, for example.

The misunderstanding, then, is the reasoning for the “appeal to the moderates” / “prevent the progressives from pulling the party to the left” strategy for the 2020 presidential election. This reasoning, which I believe is incorrect, presumes that a Democratic candidate can pick up votes by abandoning the issues of “economic justice” and instead offer “compromise” on issues like immigration – perhaps under the guise of “appealing to national security”.

This is a mistake because going after economic justice issues like health care and inequality is in fact a strong direct response to the core concerns of economic security / job security etc — and one what we know working class across party lines do believe in.

Economic justice issues are the natural answer Democrats have to give to Trumpism. Give this answer, and you energize the base, increase turnout, ally with the spanish speaking demographic which in fact delivered gains in the 2018 election. You anger the commited conservatives who weren’t going to vote for you anyway. But you are saying  to that elusive working class swing voter, that they will get relief from 30-40 years of economic decline and that you have a plan to halt that trend at its root cause.

On the other hand, running a blue dog / social-conservative type candidate (i.e. Biden) alienates the progressives, is a weak draw for spanish speaking voters, and the answer it offers “moderates” for job insecurity is no different than what they are already getting from Trump, except that Trump’s version goes further.

It is very much the same mistake that the Democratic party made in 2016.

The details of the electoral matchup are different – we know now that Trump is even more of a doofus than he seemed then. And all candidates, including Biden, will be less controversial (i.e. less unpopular) with the general public than Clinton was. Yet Trump’s approval is now higher, getting into the mid 40’s. All indications suggest he will get the benefit of an improving economy. Most importantly, he can plausibly claim to have followed through on his core promise: attacking economic security / job security related issues, “his way”, on multiple fronts. Strong-arming various foreign trade partners, esp. China, renegotiating NAFTA, cutting taxes (a false point in terms of inequality, but a lot of people are going to fall for it), and of course the vocal anti immigrant rhetoric and policy. That is what I mean by Trump and Republicans offering a “stronger” version of the thing Biden and/or a moderate/conservative Democrat will supposedly offer swing voters, at least those who believe in this stuff. (and to repeat, you’re going to alienate progressives and lower your own turnout).

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