SYNDICATED COLUMN: Remember When? The Border Wall Used to be a Left-Wing Thing

Image result for russia china border wall

Illegal immigrants, President Trump claims, are pouring over the border from Mexico into the United States. That’s not true now; notwithstanding the ballyhooed caravan of Central American migrants who recently arrived at a California crossing, illegal crossings are hitting historic lows. There’s actually a net outflow. But it was true until the early 2000s — which is when the left was calling for a border wall.

“Legal immigration should become safe, legal and commonplace,” I wrote in 2005 in response to George W. Bush’s call for a guest worker program for illegals. I opposed Bush’s plan because it would hurt American wages and job prospects. “At the same time, no nation worthy of the name can tolerate porous borders. We can and must seal our borders to prevent economic migrants, terrorists and others with unknown motives from entering the United States.”

It seems strange to recall, but support for stronger border controls was a common thread among both the populists of the America-First Pat Buchanan right and the labor-protectionist left that backed Bernie Sanders. Now the right, led by Mr. Trump, monopolizes the cause of economic nationalism — but recent history shows that there’s a even stronger, non-xenophobic for protectionism on the left. The problem is, Trump and Congressional Republicans haven’t been willing to make concessions to get The Wall (or a cheaper high-tech alternative to bricks, mortar and corrugated fencing with negative environmental impacts).

For their part, Dems have adopted a policy stance that thoughtful leftists recognize as nonsensical and ideologically incoherent.

First, mainline Democrats have been arguing, we should look the other way as foreigners enter the country unchecked because we need undocumented workers to take low-wage occupations — picking fruit, plucking chickens, making our hotel beds — that Americans don’t want. But that’s not only is not true, it cannot be true. Without undocumented workers, employers would be forced to offer higher wages for those tasks they couldn’t automate. Inflationary risks and agriculture sector disruption notwithstanding, raising wages for unskilled labor would create upward pressure on wages up the salary chain. Simple supply and demand. The removal of 11 million consumers, however, would depress spending on goods and services as well as sales tax collections.

The other pillar of Democratic immigration policy is so absurd that the party rightly refuses to articulate it: that border controls are inherently racist and xenophobic. No other country thinks so. You can’t sneak into Uruguay or Tanzania or the Seychelles without a visa (much less look for work) and hope for anything other than arrest and deportation. Controlling the flow of human beings into one’s country isn’t bigotry. It’s one of the fundamental characteristics of a modern nation state. One could sooner do without minting one’s own currency or issuing postage stamps.

Yet the status quo, a tacit open door at various crossing points, is all Democrats have to offer: more of the same lunacy.

The only reason the Democrats get away with their sophistry is that Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants during the campaign (Mexican rapists, etc.) were so vicious and toxic. On immigration, he out-crazied the Democrats. In power, the Trump Administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws has come across as gratuitously cruel.

Trump’s ban against visits to the U.S. by citizens of six Muslim nations said to be associated with terrorism was launched so haphazardly that families with visas and/or official refugee status were turned away at JFK airport after boarding planes in their home countries with legitimate documents. Refugees from Syria, where a civil war rages in part because one side was funded and armed by the U.S., have almost all been refused entry although most Syrians fleeing the war zone are doing so precisely because they are enemies of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups out to attack American interests.

News reports have showcased sobbing families watching relatives who came here illegally from Latin America but have lived exemplary, law-abiding (except for their immigration status) lives as entrepreneurs and parents, being sent to countries like Honduras where they fear for their lives. Trump threw the “Dreamers” — kids without criminal records who came to the U.S. essentially as luggage, with their parents — under the bus. Americans support borders, but not these kinds of deportations — and thus not this Wall.

You may have been born here. But there’s a good chance that someone in your family tree arrived at Ellis Island or somewhere else without their paperwork in perfect order.

Like any other country, the United States ought to vet everyone who seeks to enter its territory. We need less illegal immigration and more legal immigration. As we reduce unauthorized land crossings and overstayed visas, we ought to increase opportunities for foreigners to apply for legal visas with a clear path to a green card and citizenship. Unlike undocumented workers preyed upon by rapacious employers because they live in the shadows, legal immigrants can insist upon fair legal wages. Admitting them puts less downward pressure on wages.

We need a realistic approach to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently here. So what if we wind up “rewarding” people who technically broke the law? We left the border open, we hired them, we chose not to enforce our own laws. This is what happens when a rich country leaves open its border with a poor one. Those who committed serious felonies (far fewer than three percent) should be carefully evaluated to see if they are likely to reoffend after serving their prison sentences; those determined not to have been rehabilitated should be deported to their countries of origin.

The others should receive amnesty. Most of the beneficiaries of Ronald Reagan’s 1986 mass amnesty worked out fine.

Immigration hardliners worry that each amnesty is a precedent for the next one, but that will only be true this time if we again fail to secure the border.

If Republicans keep the House next year, Trump will get his wall — or groundbreaking on one before a future Democratic regime halts construction. With that outcome less than certain (to say the least), Trump could secure the assent of the progressive populist base of the Democratic Party if he were to throw in legalization of the straight-and-narrow illegal immigrants who are already here along with an end to his Muslim ban.

Republicans could point to a promise kept on border protection. Democrats could throw a bone to a restive base on economic nationalism without climbing in bed with Trumpian xenophobia.

A win-win. Almost like Washington in the old days.

Never happen.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

6 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Remember When? The Border Wall Used to be a Left-Wing Thing

  1. Treating human beings like some kind of hazardous material dripping out of a leaky pipe has never been a left-wing thing, Ted. If you have some Clintonesque triangulation in your past, there’s no need to repeat it now just to maintain a facade of consistency. It’s especially galling given that you’re a dual citizen who can fuck off to Paris — or ANYWHERE ELSE IN EUROPE — whenever you feel like it. This is not your issue, white boy.

  2. … although most Syrians fleeing the war zone are doing so precisely because they are enemies of ISIS and other radical Islamist groups out to attack American interests.

    But as you pointed out immediately above, «a civil war [in Syria] rages in part because one side was funded and armed by the U.S.» and that side is nothing other than that which included and derives nearly all its military capabilities from «ISIS and other radical Islamist groups». Thus while these groups may from time to time «attack [specific] American interests», policy makers in the US obviously feel that their activities are in the interest of the US, such as, e g, «regime change» in Syria. And the people who are fleeing are doing so not so much because they are the «enemies» of these groups, but rather to avoid being their victims – not quite the same thing….

    Falco’s point – «When US overt or covert wars make life untenable for people across the globe, millions of them escape to fine decent lives, whether they come to the US from Mexico and Central America or if they go to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and West Asia.» – is well taken ; while all countries have the right and the duty to regulate immigration, in the special case of the «exceptional» US, the primary measure to be taken is to stop sowing war and destruction abroad (and, one might want to add, at home as well – consider the number of persons in the United States killed by means of firearms annually)….

    Henri

  3. “First, mainline Democrats have been arguing, we should look the other way as foreigners enter the country unchecked because we need undocumented workers to take low-wage occupations — picking fruit, plucking chickens, making our hotel beds — that Americans don’t want. But that’s not only is not true, it cannot be true”

    Not exactly we need replacement workers to support services like Social Security. Off the top of my head at one point there were something like six workers for every SS recipient, now there are two.
    Second certain illegals change the demographics of an area. Hispanics tend to vote Democrat. Hispanics also tend to adopt the local ways within a generation. And people of color change the ethnic statistics for an area.
    A little known secret is prisons are built in areas which, to certain groups, require demographic shift. If a family member is in prison five hours away the family tends to move to that area instead of commuting.. Because prison populations are mainly minority and minorities tend to vote Democrat we see not only a change in the racial stats for that county but in the voting stats.
    Those stats also allow states to apply for more federal benefits to aid in covering the social services and housing on minority groups.
    I happen to live in a small city where the slum lords have been advertising that Puerto Ricans move here with billboards in Puerto Rico. The billboards may state there is opportunity or that it is easier to collect social services.
    Anyway they move into our city, find no jobs, collect social services and pay rent to the slumlords that advertised.
    Now these slumlords receive grants to upgrade their public housing, city/state/federal government love them. Hispanics vote Democrat, they change the ethnic make up.
    BUT they do not add to the necessary base required to economically replenish the social safety net. They require jobs to siphon funds into Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security/Food Stamps so on.
    Meanwhile the young are having minigang fights over stupid shit like social media posts. I watched as about twenty or so young people stood outside a neighbors home verbally assaulting his daughter because she either dated the wrong guy or she dropped him.
    They would arrive four to a car, some would leave and return later.
    Meanwhile another group of about fifteen were filming all this. They were just bystanders.
    Anyway the mini riot last over an hour with the outraged Dad yelling at the crowd to get off his property. No major show of force by the cops.
    I have heard rumors of more violent attacks. Those rumors come from respected authorities like a Psych councilor at the high school.
    At the same time, some of the Puerto Ricans are purchasing homes in decaying neighborhoods and refurbishing them.
    Two edged sword.
    Either way simplifying this issue as a “cheap labor” one misses the very much larger social control behind illegal immigration.
    Personally I want the Canadians removed as the take the high paying entertainment jobs, right Shatner.

    Let us harken back to 1993
    https://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/02/nyregion/study-sees-illegal-aliens-in-new-light.html
    “The analysis, based on a complex formula that used data from border crossings, airports and the census, found that among the 18 million residents of New York are some 490,000 illegal immigrants, with more than 80 percent living in New York City.

    The report’s profile of the illegal immigrants in New York differs strikingly from the national picture. Whereas Mexicans — the largest group nationally — and other Central Americans dominate illegal populations in much of the country, they barely show up in the state statistics. Illegal immigrants in New York are much more diverse, coming predominantly from Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.

    The illegal Ecuadorean, Italian and Polish populations are followed closely, and less surprisingly, by Dominicans, Colombians, Haitians and Jamaicans, the analysis found. But illegal Chinese immigrants do not even make the top 10, and illegal Mexicans are not even in the top 20. In fact, contrary even to the expectations of immigration experts, the typical illegal immigrant in New York is twice as likely to be an Italian who overstayed a travel visa as a Chinese migrant smuggled in by gangsters, the analysis concluded. The state is even home to slightly more illegal Israelis, 13,492, than to illegal Chinese — 12,655, according to the report.”

    • Forgot to add that the billboard thing has been going on for decades. I first heard of them in the 70’s.
      Being a relatively small city there was virtually no racial problems with Black and Hispanics. BUT, the Italians ans Swedes HATED each other.
      So rich hung out with poor, white with Black and Hispanics. All bought dope and partied with each other.
      Meanwhile the Italian parents and grandparents continually demeaned the Swedes, the Swedes did the same. Neither would allow their children to date, and if you were a waitperson at some place which catered to either side you were treated like crap and continually insulted.

  4. Re the quote: “This is what happens when a rich country leaves open its border with a poor one.”

    This completely ignores the fact that said “rich country” has been advertising itself as “exceptional” while waging economic and/or frank war on said poor country and a whole chain of poor countries beyond it.

    When US overt or covert wars make life untenable for people across the globe, millions of them escape to fine decent lives, whether they come to the US from Mexico and Central America or if they go to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and West Asia.

  5. You’ve got a bit of a straw man, there Ted.

    While you are correct that current ‘leftish’ thinking is to call border control racist, that is a *reaction* to the fact that the Great Wall of Trump is undeniably racist. There are plenty of places you can walk across the Canadian border unhindered, yet nobody’s calling for a wall there. A decent sized sailboat can safely cross to Florida from anywhere in the Caribbean, yet nobody’s calling for a wall around Key West. (row boats are less safe, but often make the crossing anyway)

    We used to have a ‘guest worker program’ – we *invited* Mexicans in to work our factories during WWII, and migrant farm workers have been part of our agricultural landscape ever since corn was invented. There were processing stations all along the border specifically for guest workers.

    https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/texas-border-town-looks-to-tell-story-of-mexican-guest-workers-1.3310943

    Your supply and demand argument would indeed work if the invisible hand worked. Anybody seen the invisible hand around lately? Studies have shown that migrant workers actually push ‘native workers’ wages *up* – they take the lower paying jobs so the average for ‘Americans’ is higher. Remove the Mexicans & then what? Will the capitalists raise wages? Somehow I doubt that … but if they did you’d soon be paying $20 for a head of lettuce.

    If people want to be scared, they should be scared of the quality of work rather than the pay. We recently had some remodeling done. Various teams of carpenters, painters, electricians, etc came through our house. The Anglos got Friday-itis, they scrimped wherever they thought they could get away with it, and weeks after they left I found a bunch of wood, sawdust, scrap and crap swept into a closet. One guy even decided to cool his drink by putting it into our icemaker, sticking his dirty hand into the ice we’d been planning on putting into our drinks!

    Contrast to the Hispanic teams that came through. They were polite and industrious, worked hard, cleaned up after themselves, and often went the extra mile (“I noticed a chip in the wall over there so I patched that too”)

    Of course, since they all work for capitalists, I got charged the same regardless of the workers’ nationality or citizenship status.

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