Opinion | The Case Against ‘border Security’
That’s not only bad for immigrants who, as a result of militarized borders are more likely to be kidnapped, violently assaulted and driven to cross via the lethal desert. It’s also bad for Democrats, who are handing ammunition to the nativist right at a time when Republicans are on the back foot and polls show that Democratic voters are moving decidedly leftward on immigration and the border.
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Voters used to overwhelmingly favor less immigration, but opinions have changed fast amid an immigrant rights movement that took off in 2006 and partisan polarization driven by aggressive enforcement. In 1994, just 32 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Americans and 30 percent of Republicans agreed that immigrants strengthened the country, according to the Pew Research Center. But by 2016, the share of Democrats who said so had skyrocketed to 78 percent. In 2006, 37 percent of Democrats said that immigration levels should be decreased, while only 20 percent said that it should be increased. In 2018, 40 percent said that it should be increased, with just 16 percent calling for restriction. The same trend has held on border politics: In 2010, 47 percent of Democrats said that they equally prioritized legalizing undocumented immigrants and “better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws,” while just 29 percent prioritized legalization alone. By 2018, the number prioritizing legalization alone skyrocketed to 51 percent.
Under President Trump, polarization has accelerated — and that’s a good thing. The vanishing bipartisan consensus orchestrated mammoth deportations and militarized the border in the quixotic hope of placating the nativist right and winning it over to supporting immigration reform. This strategy only inflamed the right’s paranoiac ravings and helped move the goal posts to new extremes. Which is why we find ourselves, in 2019, with the possibility of beginning a second government shutdown over the wall.
So, what should the Democrats pursue instead? A break with a failed bipartisan consensus.
Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, all Democrats who are new to the House, have drafted a letter urging opposition to any deal that increases Department of Homeland Security funding in any form. That’s a good start.
The border must be demilitarized, which would include demolishing the already-existing wall and dramatically downsizing the Border Patrol. Criminal sanctions on illegal entry and re-entry must be repealed. Opportunities for legal immigration, particularly from Mexico and Central America, must be expanded. The right to asylum must be honored. And citizenship for those who reside here must be a stand-alone cause, unencumbered by compromises that are not only distasteful but also politically ineffectual — and that today would provoke opposition from the nativist right and the grass-roots left. If Democrats stick to the center on immigration, they will find themselves fighting on two fronts. A fight against Republicans, with the left at their back, will be far easier to win — and a more noble victory.
Simple realism dictates that no legislation to grant citizenship to the millions of undocumented Americans who deserve it will be passed until the Republicans are defeated. There’s no use trying to appease them. The bipartisan consensus supporting harsh immigration and border enforcement has fractured. Democratic elected officials need to catch up.
Daniel Denvir (@danieldenvir) is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University and the author of the forthcoming “All-American Nativism.” He also hosts “The Dig,” a podcast from Jacobin magazine.