Immigration Has Changed the Progressive Movement

by Jason Richwine

Peter Beinart has an excellent essay in The Atlantic on how the American Left has shifted on immigration. Just a decade ago, he writes, progressive intellectuals such as Glenn Greenwald, Paul Krugman, and even Barack Obama at least acknowledged the costs of immigration. In fact, Krugman outright stated that, “Realistically, we’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.”

I would add to those examples the New York Times editorial from 2000, “Hasty Call for Amnesty,” which declares, “Amnesty would undermine the integrity of the country’s immigration laws and would depress the wages of its lowest-paid native-born workers.” Far from sounding progressive to our 2017 ears, this is the kind of statement that might get a speaker disinvited from a college campus these days.

The strange marriage of progressivism and mass immigration has always puzzled me. Last month, I wrote an article for RealClearPolicy showing that progressive and high-immigration California is failing by progressives’ own standards. California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, its math and reading scores rank near the bottom, and its communities suffer from low levels of social trust. These problems have many causes, but mass low-skill immigration has clearly exacerbated them. Two questions for progressives follow. First, if the nation’s leader in blue-state governance cannot mitigate the problems related to mass immigration, which state will? Second, and more broadly, how does immigration move us closer to the egalitarian, cooperative, and science-loving society that progressives envision?

I never received any answers to these questions, but maybe the Beinart article points to one: Immigrants and the organizations that lobby for them are now an important Democratic-party constituency. As a result, boosting immigration has itself become a progressive cause, even if it means the old-fashioned vision of egalitarian communities has to be permanently set aside. This is a major political realignment, and yet another example of how mass immigration fundamentally changes nations.

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