Imagine if a major presidential candidate got up and said that Wall Street supports racial equality because they want to use it as a weapon to suppress the wages of white workers. Imagine if he said that we shouldn’t be helping blacks compete with unemployed white kids. His career would be over, right?
Would it change anything if he claimed to care deeply about blacks? If he claimed to “just have a few concerns about how black workers are being used,” and wanted to protect them from exploitation? If he listed, as an example of his totally reasonable concerns about “how black workers are being used,” a complaint that some of the corporations that hire the largest numbers of African-Americans are also heavily involved in outsourcing and offshoring?
Would it help if he framed his solutions to this “problem” as actually helping blacks? If his platform included statements like “employers should be required to reimburse black workers for housing and transportation expenses” and “substantially increase prevailing wages that employers are required to pay blacks,” without saying that these provisions should apply to workers in general, and arguing that if employers really need to hire African-Americans they should be happy to follow these rules?
Guess what? Take the above hypothetical candidate, replace “blacks” with “immigrants,” and you have Bernie Sanders. ThinkProgress quotes Sanders as saying:
“There is a reason why Wall Street and all of corporate America likes immigration reform, and it is not, in my view, that they’re staying up nights worrying about undocumented workers in this country. What I think they are interested in is seeing a process by which we can bring low-wage labor of all levels into this country to depress wages for Americans, and I strongly disagree with that.”…
“I frankly do not believe that we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled to workers to compete with [unemployed] kids,” Sanders said. “I want to see these kids get jobs.”
“Last year, the top 10 employers of H-1B guest workers were all offshore outsourcing companies,” Sanders said in a Senate speech in 2013. “These firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries.”
And here are some of the bullet points from Sanders’ official platform on his website:
- “Employers should be required to reimburse guest workers for housing, transportation expenses and workers’ compensation.”
- “Substantially increase prevailing wages that employers are required to pay temporary guest workers. If there is a true labor shortage, employers should be offering higher, not lower wages.”
To be clear, I’m not calling Sanders a racist. I’m calling him a xenophobe. In America today, bigotry based on skin color is taboo, but bigotry based on where someone was born is 100% mainstream.
Some people have asked me why we should make this issue, of all issues, a litmus test. In my view, it’s precisely because immigration seems marginal to many progressives, precisely because xenophobia is mainstream, that we should be fighting to create a world where the kinds of things Sanders has said have a political cost.
By the way, Sanders’ idea that immigration hurts American workers is as wrong as Donald Trump’s claim that Mexican immigrants are mostly criminals. Economists agree that immigration actually raises wages of native-born workers, and the debate is about how big this effect is.
Who am I rooting for this election? Martin O’Malley. His platform promises aggressive executive action to help immigrants, with bullet points like:
- “Provide Deferred Action to the Greatest Possible Number of New Americans.”
- “Limit Detention to Only Those Who Pose a Clear Threat to Public Safety.”
O’Malley promises to end the practice of prosecuting almost all undocumented immigrants for illegal entry and “direct federal prosecutors to focus on priority cases that advance national security, address violent crime or financial fraud, and protect the most vulnerable members of society.”
He has also attacked visa caps as “putting unrealistic and rigid quotas on who can contribute to our country”, and supports creating an independent agency to enable more flexible immigration policy, as well as moves to “address employment barriers for foreign professionals.” In the current political climate, these statements really stand out.
What about Hillary Clinton? Clinton appears to be positioning herself as Generic Democrat on immigration issues. I expect that if she were elected president, we’d continue to see deportation of child refugees, as is happening under Obama. On the other hand, she hasn’t promoted ideas about immigrants hurting American workers, nor has she proposed measures that would make it harder for immigrants to get jobs.
So I definitely want to see pressure on Clinton to take a clearer pro-immigration stance (something that will happen if O’Malley’s campaign manages to gather any momentum). But the things Sanders has said should just be totally unacceptable.