The issue that should make Bernie Sanders unacceptable to progressives

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.”

And as much as I wish I were making up the offshoring thing…

“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.

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13 thoughts on “The issue that should make Bernie Sanders unacceptable to progressives

  1. “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.”

    Are you saying the most important litmus tests are those outside the political mainstream? This seems like it will just contribute to the widening ideological gulf, and make politics more tribal.

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  2. Countries are supposed to be run for the benefits of their existing citizens. Both Sanders and Trump recognize this. From a historical socialist perspective, there is plenty of precedent for opposing open borders. There are many good reasons for existing citizens to be concerned about the economic and political results of mass immigration from countries that are poor, war-torn, corrupt, or that have very different political views, especially given that immigrants or their children can vote and strain social safety nets.

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    • Countries are supposed to be run for the benefits of their existing citizens.

      If immigration raises wages, then it does benefit the existing citizens.

      And as for ‘mass immigration,’ we don’t have it. Illegal immigration goes up and down but for about the last decade has hovered at about a million per year; IOW 0.3% In terms of total (legal and illegal) immigration, here is a list of immigration by country; we are 40th, with an annual immigration rate 40x less than country #1. In terms of western 1st world countries we’re about in the middle, with a lot above us (Canada, Australia, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy etc.) and a lot below us (Germany, France, New Zealand, Denmark, Belgium etc.). There is no immigration crises here, we’re a pretty normal country in terms of immigration rates. The perception that we have a problem is largely a result of xenophobic political rhetoric (IMO).

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      • Immigration helps some economic indicators, but you have to include the political and criminal externalities over the long term to determine the net benefit to the existing citizens. Some of the externalities are already discussed in the second link I gave.

        Your argument that there is no “mass immigration” is purely semantic. I say that a million is mass, regardless of whether other countries are doing it. Other Western countries would benefit from reducing immigration also.

        Dismissing concerns about the externalities of immigration as “xenophobic” suggests that you’ve already decided that any concerns about crime rates, corruption, welfare abuse, or politics of immigrants are baseless.

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  3. If you stop prosecuting and deporting people for illegal entry, isn’t that equivalent to open borders (with an added filter that favours those who are more willing to take risks and break laws)?

    Sure, progressives who are in favour of free movement of labour across borders probably shouldn’t be voting for Sanders. But it’s a controversial issue, even among progressives. What you’re saying is, basically, “you’re not a real progressive if you don’t agree with me about this”. Perhaps presenting your vision of a sustainable pro-immigration policy, with arguments and data, might be more effective?

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  4. Immigration policy is orthogonal to the left-right axis. There’s a conservative case for more immigration (which you more or less make with “Economists agree that immigration actually raises wages of native-born workers, and the debate is about how big this effect is.”), a conservative case against (Characterizing immigrants as parasites or infiltrators or disease carriers or what have you), a liberal case for (a more diverse society, population growth without undermining sexual freedom, etc.), and a liberal case against (which is actually populism, not liberalism or even progressivism).

    Bernie Sanders is probably better categorized as a populist than as a liberal, progressive, or even social democrat. This is something that has concerned me for some years now, listening to the “Brunch with Bernie” segments on Thom Hartmann’s radio show. (Hartmann, I think, is populist to a fault, borderline nationalist, etc.) I myself have some populist political instincts, but also have a sense that populism tends to morph into demagoguery. I don’t think Bernie Sanders is demagogue material, but the degree of his immigration hawkishness, of which I have only recently become aware, has appalled me. Unfortunately, I actively dislike all the other people known to be candidates.

    My own migration policy wish-list is as follows:

    * call it “migration policy” instead of “immigration policy”

    * the emigration policy part of migration policy is basic Kennedy (or Reagan, for that matter) Doctrine: A free country doesn’t build walls to keep people in. Grounds for denial of US passport (child support evation, etc.) should be subject to strong due process.

    * opposed in principle to guest worker programs. This would probably include H1B, would certainly include some of the manual labor visas that had been proposed by Bush administration. I’m opposed to the European trend in what they call “managed migration.”

    * As a matter of principle, permission to work in the United States should mean permission to be a full participant in the American labor market; the right to seek employment, apply for jobs, turn down job offers, etc.

    * As a matter of principle, a visa should be understood to represent a relationship between a nation-state and an individual, period. Under no circumstances should any employer have veto power over anyone’s immigration status.

    * Aside from the stipulations above, the number of green cards issued should go up, not down. Probably way up.

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  5. If you want to get that — that an employer should never have a veto over a person’s status, THEN YOU HAVE TO REFORM THE H-1B PROCESS. The employers LOVE IT that people have to work for them or leave. Get MORE flexibility to transfer jobs, get MORE people green cards instead of keeping them on visas forever, and maybe you need FEWER H-1Bs then. (Maybe.)

    But it doesn’t happen if you follow the policy prescriptions of the FWD.US idiots.

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