November 20, 2018

Democrats Will Have to Deal with Immigration Eventually

“If it were up to President Trump, the midterm elections would be about curtailing birthright citizenship and halting the caravan of several thousand Central American migrants that has been slowly making its way to the U.S. border. Democrats, meanwhile, would much rather spend their time defending Obamacare and calling for a more generous safety net.

But if both parties are playing to their political strengths, the difficult truth is that immigration and the fate of the safety net aren’t two separate questions. They’re bound tightly together, in a way that poses particular challenges for the Democratic Party — challenges that will grow only more pronounced in the years to come.

Most Democrats are convinced that in an age of offshoring and automation, when the wages of the working class are under intense competitive pressure, it is government’s job to help close the gap between what low- and middle-income U.S. families earn and what they need to lead decent lives.

Yet many Democrats also believe that we as a country ought to open our borders to hard-working immigrants who don’t command the skills that are most prized in a postindustrial economy. The tricky part is that once we welcome these newcomers into our society, many if not most will need refundable tax credits, food stamps, Medicaid and other government programs to stay out of poverty.

If you believe that our dynamic market economy has so devalued the labor of low-skill workers that we need bigger government, the conviction that we ought to freely admit foreign low-skill workers looking for a better life leads to an uncomfortable conclusion. We are poised to greatly expand the ranks of those who find themselves stuck at the bottom of our stratified society, and who will therefore have a claim to our public resources.

Understandably, many Democrats object to Trump’s hyperbolic characterization of their party as standing for “open-borders socialism.” Yet Democrats find themselves locked in a kind of left-wing bidding war. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) calls for $50,000 nest eggs for poor children. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) backs a new poverty-fighting refundable tax credit that would cost, according to the right-of-center Tax Foundation, $2.7 trillion over the coming decade.”

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