Politics & Policy

Democrats Are Stuck in an Immigration-Maximalist Mode

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
According to many on the left these days, even a minor reduction in immigration amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Last week, after Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer ended the 69-hour government shutdown with nothing to show for it, his irate constituents flooded the sidewalk across from his Brooklyn apartment in protest. Bearing signs that criticized President Donald Trump and the GOP and showed support for DACA recipients and the DREAM Act, the protesters expressed their discontent at Schumer’s grand failure.

As the protest went on, however, it became clear that the fair criticism of Schumer’s leadership — that almost anyone could’ve ended the shutdown with a better deal for Democrats — was not the one being offered. Inexplicably, one speaker said that Schumer’s decision to cut a deal indicated that he was against protests, too. Why? Because both unfettered immigration and free expression are “parts of the American tradition.” A protest organizer told me that Schumer’s abandonment of immigrants makes him part of the 1 percent. For another speaker, it made him a “bad Jew.” Among the activists, it was universally concluded that Schumer’s failure rendered him “anti-DACA” and “anti-immigrant.”

This leap of illogic is symptomatic of a greater disease on the left. Maximalist immigration tendencies have long been common on the fringes of progressivism, but lately, in the Age of Trump, they have become de rigueur.

Consider the Left’s unhinged reaction to the latest White House immigration-reform proposal, which in exchange for expanding the amnesty offered to the 700,000 who signed up for DACA to the nearly 2 million who were eligible to do so, would establish a $25 billion trust fund for border enforcement, provide new resources for immigration agencies, and eliminate the diversity visa lottery and most chain-migration categories.

This offer — which led Breitbart to term the president “Amnesty Don” — represented a “white supremacist ransom note,” at least according to the immigration activist groups United We Dream and America’s Voice. Writing for The Nation, Joan Walsh called it “anti-American.” In Politico, Cecilia Muñoz compared the proposed reduction in chain migration to white supremacy, as did Nancy Pelosi, who characterized the suggestion as being “part of the Trump administration’s unmistakable campaign to make America white again.” These responses were reminiscent of Senator Dick Durbin’s claim that “chain migration,” a widely used term that predates Trump by decades, is offensive because slaves came to America in chains.

These days, even a minor reduction in immigration is said to amount to ethnic cleansing. To those who paid attention to politics in the early 2000s — when liberals still relevant today, such as Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, and Paul Krugman, agreed with conservatives that legal, not just illegal, immigration must be controlled — this development is appalling.

Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Beinart theorized that the change had something to do with a growing confidence on the left that the rising Latino population “gave the [Democratic] party an electoral edge.” Perhaps so. Whatever the cause, though, Democrats have come to see immigration less as an issue of everyday politics and more as an issue of fundamental identity. It has therefore become increasingly difficult for any within their party to support expelling aliens, or even to support changing the legal-immigration status quo.

This is despite the fact that the arguments for limiting immigration have remained the same, or at least similar, over the years. “The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers,” said Bill Clinton. “Immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants,” Paul Krugman has contended. Is this no longer true?

Democrats have come to see immigration less as an issue of everyday politics and more as an issue of fundamental identity.

Ultimately, if the revelers outside Schumer’s house are any indicator of the party’s rapid movement toward the extremes — and that their language is being echoed by leadership suggests that they are — the chance of a compromise is fading fast. At the protest, attendees made it clear that Schumer and the Democrats have but one option if they want to avoid electoral ouster: They must negotiate a clean DACA bill from the GOP-majority Congress and White House or else command the minority to “shut it down” again. This is a party in maximalist mode; a car stuck in neutral, revving aimlessly, waiting for a 60-seat majority to shift it into drive. It will be difficult for Democrats to come back from this brink.


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