Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Border

As a tease to his recent article in The Atlantic, David Frum on Tuesday tweeted "If liberals insist that enforcing borders is a job only fascists will do, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals won't."

In her own confused way, a co-host on The View tried to makea similar point when

In a conversation Monday about the migrant caravan heading to the United States from Central America, The View’s Meghan McCain accused co-host Sunny Hostin of calling her a liar, after claiming that “the left” wants ‘open borders and no consequences’ for undocumented immigrants.

“When you see these images, this is a conservative fever dream and a gift to the mid-term elections because this is exactly what conservatives think people on the left want to have happen into this country,” McCain said. “What a lot of people on the left are saying, no one on this table, is that you want open borders and no consequences.”

Very few people on the left are "saying" that they "want open borders and no consequences." However, they- and yes, that includes Hostin- seem to be saying that. In his article, Frum criticizes President Trump and appears to understand that support on the left for open borders is neither policy nor explicit record. However, he observes 

in the Democrats’ liberal base, the mood toward the caravan is positively sympathetic. The caravan’s slogan, “People without borders,” chimes with the rising sentiment among liberals that border-enforcement is inherently illegitimate, and usually racist, too.

Frum adds

The theory behind the caravans—this latest, and its smaller predecessors over the past 15 years—is that Central Americans have valid asylum claims in the United States because of the pervasive underemployment and gang-violence problems in their countries. If that claim is true, that is a claim shared not only among the thousands in the current caravan, but the millions back home. A 2013 Pew survey found that 58 percent of Salvadorans would move to the United States if they could. The seven countries of Central America together have a population of some 45 million, or about the same as Mexico’s back in 1970, when the mass migration from that nation began.

The fortuitous rise in the ratio of workers to job openings, which may boost wages, undermines one of the legitimate arguments against increased immigration. Nonetheless, it is having a perverse effect as

The strong US job market is again attracting low-wage workers. After a dip in 2017, illegal crossings of the southern border in 2018 have returned to their levels of 2016—and are running well ahead of 2015. If the thousands of people in the caravan successfully cross the border, lodge asylum claims, and are released into the U.S. interior pending adjudication, many more seem likely to follow.

Why wouldn’t they? More than 60 percent of the population of Honduras lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, and very nearly 60 percent do so in Guatemala. While rates of crime and violence have declined in both countries since 2014, they remain appalling by world standards.

The likely political consequences should be evident and are, at least to Frum, who recognizes

For Trump, the caravan represents a political opportunity. Here is exactly the kind of issue that excites more conservative Americans—and empowers him as their blustery, angry champion.

For Trump’s opponents, the caravan represents a trap. Has Trump’s radical nativism so counter-radicalized them that they have internalized the caravan message against any border enforcement at all? If yes, they will not help immigrants. They will only marginalize themselves—and American politics will follow the European path in which anti-immigration parties of the extreme right cannibalize the political center.

The images of thousands (or what appear to be thousands) of refugees- demonized by Trump as immigrants or terrorists- is potentially devastating to Democrats, and are repeatedly played on cable news.  (It doesn't help that they appear to look different than most Americans.)

Pointing out that immigrants have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans, work hard,  are not terrorists, are in Mexico rather than knocking on the door in Brownsville, Texas, or often speak English (which, revealingly, goes unmentioned) will not erase those images. Nor will references to a "nation of immigrants," the promise of the Statue of Liberty nor to Jesus welcoming strangers and refugees, the poor and the persecuted.

Democrats promptly should turn the issue around, arguing that deportations have declined since Donald Trump became President, people are still overstaying their visas, illegal immigrants are staying in the country longer, and caravans will become the norm with this guy's policies. In the short term, the least Democrats could do is to emphasize that Trump's policies are a failure in protecting the interests of Americans. In the long term, they need a simple and coherent, yet sensible, message.

Otherwise, as David Frum realizes, Republicans in the Trump era are going to present Americans with an either-or choice: vote for those of us who will defend Americans, or for the ones who will defend the other. And the demagogues do not intend to lose.

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