New data sheds light on America’s immigration fight. The Wall Street Journal reports:
A report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center released Thursday found that 45% of adults say the growing number of immigrants working in the U.S. hurts workers, while 42% say having more immigrants helps workers. The survey of about 5,000 adults was conducted from late May to late June.
Despite the plurality of negative views, the survey shows that Americans have grown more positive about immigrants’ impact on workers over the last decade, a period when immigration to the U.S. dipped. When Pew asked the question in 2006, 55% of respondents said immigration hurt workers, compared with 28% who said immigration helped workers.
This is perhaps not surprising: 2006 was right about the time immigration from Mexico peaked; though conventional wisdom doesn’t always reflect this, it’s since abated. That was the period when illegal immigration was most visible, and resistance to it, as the failure of the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill showed, was widespread at a grassroots level. But something else has changed since: immigration has become a far more partisan issue:
What’s striking is how far Democrats and Republicans have diverged on the issue. Democrats view immigration’s jobs impact much more favorably now, with 58% saying it helps while 30% say it hurts. In 2006, just 30% said it helps while 54% said it hurts.
Meanwhile, Republicans have soured slightly on the issue, with 67% saying immigration hurts U.S. workers and 22% saying it helps in the recent survey. That’s compared with a 61%/24% hurts/helps split a decade ago.
This explains why immigration feels so much more fraught as a political issue now than it did in 2006. In 2007, Republican leaders such as Pres. Bush or Sen. McCain were pro-immigration and pro-immigration reform, while resistance to both largely existed at the grassroots level. The balance has tipped, and in the age of Trump, the populists now hold the whip hand in the party.
But the shift among Democrats has been much less remarked upon—even though it’s considerably bigger demographically, and just as important politically, as that among Republicans. Likely, that’s because it’s bene a shift toward the side most elites and the media agree with. A decade ago, skepticism about immigration was a cross-aisle issue among blue collar workers. This kept Democratic rhetoric about immigration balanced. The party still had voices (including among union leaders and the now-extinct “Blue Dog” Democrats) that were openly skeptical about the benefits of mass immigration, and party leaders gave at least lip service to the importance of enforcement. But demographic shifts in the Democratic coalition, as well as an increased ideological emphasis on viewing immigrants as an oppressed class, and the raw interest calculation that lay behind much of the “Permanent Democratic Majority” triumphalism, drove such sentiments out of the party. Today, arguing for immigration enforcement at all is almost tantamount to racism per se in certain quarters of the left.
There’s every reason to believe this polarization will continue after this election season is over. Pro-immigrant democrats look across the aisle and see in Donald Trump confirmation of the view that those who hold anti-immigrant are bigots. Democrats will keep that memory alive long after Trump (likely) loses the race. Republicans, meanwhile, look across the aisle and see a party that refuses to enforce existent law on immigration; increasingly, they ask how they can trust the Democrats to hold up the enforcement provisions of any future deal. And those of us in the middle, who’d like to find a way to help people who may have come here illegally but have been here for decades, but without triggering a massive new flood of illegal immigration—and who want to keep the doors open to legal immigration in a a sustainable fashion—are increasingly squeezed toward the margins.