Political Editors / April 5, 2022

In Brief: Back When the Left Liked Borders

As unlimited immigration has become an immutable value of the Left, let’s remember it wasn’t always this way.

Not long after Joe Biden took office, we called his nescient border crisis one of design. We’ve written extensively about the consequences of his policies and the crisis he’s created. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, looks at the underlying ideological reason for these policies, while noting that Democrats weren’t always this way:

[March 31 was] National Border Control Day, marking the 95th birthday of labor leader and immigration hawk Cesar Chavez. Although the anti-borders Left has adopted Chavez as a mascot, limiting the importation of foreign workers who competed with Americans was central to his pro-worker activism. In fact, he launched his famous boycotts of grapes and lettuce specifically because federal authorities, acting at the behest of agricultural interests, were turning a blind eye toward illegal immigration.

In a 1974 interview, Chavez said, “There’s an awful lot of illegals coming in. … They’re coming in by the thousands, it’s just unbelievable. See, they’re coming in with the consent of the immigration service.”

Today’s landscape bears striking similarities to Chavez’s, with a few key differences.

Illegal aliens are still “coming in by the thousands,” dwarfing anything that Chavez could have imagined. Over the past several months, Border Patrol has been “encountering” — to use the Biden administration’s euphemism — about 5,000 border-jumpers each day, sneaking in from Mexico. … The Washington Post reported [last] week that DHS is preparing for as many as 18,000 illegal-alien apprehensions a day once Title 42 is no longer in force.

Chavez’s opposition to mass migration was largely based on economics — jobs and wages. It’s still true that Democrats’ open borders mean illegals take American jobs and suppress wages by working for less.

As we and others have said, however, Democrats are building a constituency aimed at future voters. Krikorian, for his part, says it’s more than that:

It’s not that Democrats don’t see political benefits from mass immigration, legal or illegal. That’s a big part of what the “Coalition of the Ascendant” blather was about. But there hasn’t been any rethink of policy in light of the more recent political developments suggesting that Democrats don’t necessarily have the lock on immigrant voters they thought they had.

That’s because the immigration views of today’s Democratic Party are based on principle, not political calculation. They genuinely believe that our nation’s immigration laws are illegitimate. They might concede that people coming from abroad should be subject to some public-health or criminal checks, but the notion that there should be limits on the number of foreigners allowed to move here is morally unacceptable. Even if some Democrats pay lip service to immigration limits, they are explicitly opposed to any steps that would actually enforce those limits.

In short, today’s mainstream Left does not believe that the American people have the right to keep anyone out.

That’s an astounding shift, he says, from Democrats of the past. The change from pro-borders to open borders happened first among activists on the Left, eventually reaching elected politicians. Krikorian concludes:

The last holdout was Bernie Sanders, who famously told Ezra Klein in 2015 that he was opposed to unlimited immigration: “Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.” But in order to run for president in 2020, he too had to switch sides.

That’s because unlimited immigration has become an immutable value of the Left, a litmus-test issue as non-negotiable as abortion or gun control. The cheap-labor interests Chavez faced could be induced to change their behavior through economic pressure, like strikes or boycotts. But the Left’s quasi-religious support for unlimited immigration can’t be deflected by the means Chavez employed. We’ll see in November whether repudiation at the ballot box will make a difference.

National Review subscribers can read the report here.

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