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Why Liberals Should Deport Illegal Immigrants

Updated on July 18, 2012

Toward a More Pragmatic Immigration Policy

This hub is a follow-up to an essay that I wrote about a week ago called, “Why Conservatives Should Support Illegal Immigration.” (I figured that I should try to be fair and balanced, just like Fox News.) So the following hub might make more sense if you read that article first. (See the link to the right.) Also, it might make any liberals out there more willing to give me a chance and look beyond this hub’s potentially offensive title. If I do my job correctly, I will piss off each side of the ideological spectrum equally, ending by laying out a simple immigration strategy that can bring both sides together.

Historically, labor unions have been hostile toward immigration. A steady supply of low wage laborers often escaping conditions far worse than in the United States, after all, weakens the unions’ bargaining position. This was particularly true in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when millions of people poured into the United States, primarily from various parts of Europe. So unions were some of the biggest winners when immigration restrictions of the 1920’s ended the era of open borders.

In the 1930’s, as part of the New Deal wave of laws and programs designed to end the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt and his Democratically-controlled Congress passed the Wagner Act, granting labor unions for the first time the legal right to bargain collectively with their employers. And ever since, labor unions have been some of the most loyal supporters of the Democratic Party. But in spite of this loyal support, Democrats are generally perceived as the political party most lenient toward those who pose one of the greatest threats to improved work conditions: illegal immigrants. Just like European immigrants of one-hundred years ago, illegal immigrants increase the labor pool, potentially driving down wages for everyone, particularly for low paying jobs. They might also work in an underground, cash economy, giving employers the ability to avoid government regulations regarding work conditions. So if liberal Democrats truly care about work conditions and human rights, they should be pushing the hardest for the enforcement of immigration laws.

But instead of looking out for the interests of labor unions and low-wage workers, the Democrats on this issue are living out the generic, “bleeding-heart,” liberal stereotype. For emotional reasons, they do not have the stomach to abide by the law and look out for the interests of some of their strongest supporters. They also enable many businesses and individuals to carry out the exploitation of workers that liberals claim to be so adamantly against. And so a party that is so generally supportive of government regulation is more “laissez faire” about illegal immigration than its conservative, anti-government opponents. In this sense, they seem as irrational as conservatives who, through their support of tough enforcement of immigration laws, will drive up the wages paid by their pro-business supporters.

President Obama, the so-called liberal, has overseen an administration that has deported more people than President Bush. To a certain degree, this is just one more example of him giving in to conservative pressure. But through these policies, this Democrat was finally doing something that potentially benefitted his union supporters. Recently, however, President Obama announced that his administration would no longer deport people who were brought here as children by their illegal immigrant parents. With an election looming, he could not resist doing something to shore up the Latino vote. And Republicans, of course, have spent the last few years shoring up their base by exploiting this emotional issue with tough talk – and in some states, tough laws – regarding illegal immigrants. As usual, emotional manipulation of voters has been a higher priority for politicians than rational policies.

But there is a simple way that both Republicans and Democrats could achieve their primary goals. If the federal government were to increase the number of immigrants legally processed each year, particularly from Latin America, then Republicans could get their low-wage workers and Democrats their defense of the rights of currently undocumented individuals. Some, of course, might claim that this is unfair. If amnesty were granted to people from Latin America who originally crossed the border illegally, or if quotas from Latin America were higher than other parts of the world, then people from other regions who have followed the law and waited their turn could be shut out.

I agree with this criticism. It would be unfair. But the United States is under no obligation to be fair to aspiring immigrants from other countries. Like all nations, our government must look out for our nation’s interests. And in politics, particularly with this issue, fair is often not a viable option. Instead, you must choose the best option from a set of imperfect policies. So what are the options? You can crack down hard on illegal immigrants, deporting millions of people and disrupting their families, communities, and employers who have become dependent on them. Or you could go to the opposite extreme, opening up the borders and allowing anyone to come in. Finally, you can continue with the status quo, with uneven enforcement and millions living and working in the shadows.

Needless to say, all of these options have some serious flaws. So why not face the reality that significant numbers of people from south of the border have the means (due to geographic location) and the motivation (due to economic disparities between the U.S. and Latin America) to come to this country. And many are already here, performing vital tasks that most Americans prefer not to do. The most rational response to reality, therefore, is to make the most of an imperfect situation by bringing more people from south of the border into the system. Then, with fewer people taking the risks of an illegal crossing and putting pressure on immigration enforcement, those who continue to live in the shadows or who commit crimes can be deported, with productive and hard-working people getting the chance to stay.

This plan, of course, is also imperfect. Social conservatives might be fearful of the cultural impact of a flood of people from Latin America. Fiscal conservatives might be concerned about a potential increase in education and social service spending. Liberals (and their labor union supporters) might be concerned about the downward pressure on wages. But all of these problems, if they are problems, exist now, and there is a potential that labor exploitation and fiscal deficits might be reduced if people come out of the shadows and are subject to the same taxes, regulations, and benefits as everyone else.

Or we can just continue politics as usual, either arguing about whose idealistic notions of a perfect, fantasy world are superior or adopting positions most likely to win the next election. But as the last few years have demonstrated, shouting matches do not accomplish a hell of a lot. Life isn’t fair, so it is time to stop bitching, grow up, and come up with pragmatic ways to improve an inevitably imperfect world.


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