The Corner

Elections

Sanders and the Hispanic Vote: Good News and Bad News

Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders listen as he speaks during a campaign rally at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas, February 23, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Bernie Sanders won 53 percent of the Hispanic vote in the Nevada caucuses over the weekend, which was hailed as his “key to victory.” This is good news and bad news.

The good news is that this wasn’t tribal voting. There was no Hispanic candidate on the ballot, of course, the non-entity Julian Castro having dropped out last month. But of all those remaining, Sanders was perhaps the most “restrictionist,” reinforcing a point lost on the simpler sort of Republican campaign operative: Americans of Hispanic origin aren’t choosing candidates based on their immigration stance, but on broader national issues.

I put restrictionist in quotes because Sanders’s current immigration platform is the same as all the other Democrats’ — a moratorium on deportations, abolish ICE, re-open the borders to fake asylum-seekers, taxpayer-funded health care for illegal aliens, etc.

But until his 2020 run, Sanders may have been the only leading figure remaining on the left who defended the legitimacy of national borders. His 2015 interview with Ezra Klein of Vox has been widely reported. There, he said: “Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.” (He was right about that, of course.) But it’s worth quoting the rest of what he said on the subject, which is applicable to mass low-skilled immigration more generally:

It would make everybody in America poorer — you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or U.K. or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

I think from a moral responsibility we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.

It’s not like this was an obscure comment that went unnoticed. Vox itself at the time slammed his comments as “ugly” and “wrongheaded”. In the current contest, these views have been at the center of every discussion of Sanders and immigration, so much so that immigration expansionists have insisted that “Sanders needs to explain his voting record on immigration”.

That he nonetheless won a majority of the Hispanic vote in a state where the Hispanic population is of much more recent vintage (and for whom immigration policy is therefore more salient) than, say, Cubans or Puerto Ricans, is heartening — they voted as Americans, not necessarily as members of an identity group.

The bad news, of course, is that, in a crowded field, the majority of these American voters backed a Castro-loving, USSR-praising socialist. This is yet more evidence that Hispanics are lopsidedly on the left, disproportionately likely to be hostile to capitalism and favor big government, gun control, environmental regulation, and the like (as exhaustively detailed here).

The Nevada vote was just the Democratic part of the Hispanic electorate, obviously. But since most Hispanics identify as Democrats, it matters a lot. The political implications for Republicans are clear: Cut back on the future importation of socialists, but at the same time appeal to Hispanic Americans as Americans, rather than the import-more-people-like-me voters that chauvinist groups claim them to be.

And improbable as it might seem, Trump seems to be pulling this off.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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