Why Did the Democratic Establishment Abandon Opposition to Illegal Immigration?

The 2016 Democratic Party platform warns that America “cannot tolerate illegal immigration and we must stop it” and praises Clinton’s efforts to remove “thousands of illegal workers from jobs across the country.” But that was the 1996 Democratic Party Platform. This year’s platform looks like it belongs to a different party. The document promises to “end raids and roundups” and pledges to “create a path to citizenship” for illegal aliens. In just two decades, the Democratic establishment betrayed their working-class base in a misguided bid for donations from corporate elites, who favor mass immigration as a source of cheap labor. These elites benefit from illegal immigration. The flood of workers undercuts hardworking Americans’ ability to negotiate for higher wages and advocate for better working conditions. Competition from illegal aliens devastates the working and middle classes. Harvard Kennedy School professor George Borjas estimates that it depresses native-born workers’ wages by up to $118 billion per year. Illegal immigration also burdens taxpayers. Federal, state, and local governments shell out $113 billion annually for services for illegal aliens. That bill comes to over $1,100 per native-born American household. These harmful consequences are why progressives, from labor activist Cesar Chavez to civil-rights luminary and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, historically opposed illegal immigration. Even today, Bernie Sanders has slammed “open border” policies, warning that they’d “make everybody in America poorer.” But donations from corporate interest groups, like the tech-industry backed FWD.us, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and many others, have pushed some in the Democratic party to ignore the consequences of illegal immigration. Progressives must resist this shift. If they hope to jumpstart stagnant wage growth and reduce skyrocketing income inequality, they’ll need to increase workers’ bargaining power and job opportunities. Removing illegal workers from the labor force is the best way to do that.