Liberals and Immigration

A couple of days ago I wrote a post responding to Peter Beinart’s recent article about Democrats and illegal immigration. It was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I intended to write one thing and then ended up writing something else, which made the post a little disjointed. Then it turned out I’d made an arithmetic mistake, and had to rewrite a chunk of the piece on the fly. Blecch.

But I did promise to eventually write the piece I initially had in mind, so here it is. I’m a little pressed for time, so I’ll keep it short.

Statistics aside, one of Beinart’s main points was not that liberals should become big opponents of immigration, but that they should be willing to admit that there are drawbacks as well as benefits to large flows of illegal immigration. It’s a complicated issue, and everyone should be willing to admit it.

I agree completely, and this is hardly a problem limited to immigration. Naturally, I blame it mostly on conservatives, but I imagine conservatives blame it mostly on liberals, so I won’t bother trying to assign blame. Either way, the upshot is that there never appears to be any political advantage to admitting that an issue has both upsides and downsides. Every issue important enough to be worth talking about does, but there’s hardly any audience left that cares.

I have no idea what, if anything, we can do about this. But I will say this. I lurk on a number of message boards populated by liberals, and what they say privately is very often more nuanced than what they say publicly.¹ On immigration, there are probably lots of liberals willing to concede that there needs to be a limit to the flow of undocumented workers. There are cultural, economic, and nationalistic reasons for this. But there’s little benefit to saying so in public. It just invites massive social media swarms insisting that you’re a closet racist.

I’ve long been on record as a moderate liberal on immigration. I think there are benefits to keeping illegal immigration to a modest level,² and details aside, I think the way to do this is a rigorous version of E-Verify along with tough employer sanctions. In my own personal utopia, I’d pair this up with a national ID card. Basically, if undocumented immigrants can’t get jobs, they’ll stop coming. There’s no need for a wall.

I wonder how many liberals agree with me, more or less? I wonder how many are waiting for someone else to say it before they do? I wonder how many just flatly don’t consider it worth the blowback, so they stay quiet? Questions, questions.

¹As you might imagine, this is partly because the boards I’m attracted to aren’t run by shouters and nutballs. Still, I’m curious: is the same true of moderate conservative boards? Any wingers out there care to comment?

²And drawbacks to getting too tough on illegal immigration. There are good reasons to protect our borders, but there are economic, humanitarian, and police state reasons not to have a goal of zero illegal immigration.

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