Today’s Liberals Consistently Vote Against Immigration and Trade
by: Zach Dexter
In a July 1st, 2010 speech, President Obama said that a “steady stream of hardworking and talented people has made America the engine of the global economy and a beacon of hope around the world.” But the immigration policies that President Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress have supported helped shut the border to skilled and unskilled workers who want to enter the country legally.
No one should be surprised that leftists like President Obama oppose immigration; we should expect their inconsistent left-wing ideology to lead to mutually exclusive policy proposals. Paul Krugman admitted as much in a March 27, 2006 column: “Immigration is an intensely painful topic for a liberal like myself, because it places basic principles in conflict. Should migration from Mexico to the United States be celebrated, because it helps very poor people find a better life? Or should it be condemned, because it drives down the wages of working Americans and threatens to undermine the welfare state?” Two incongruous claims illuminate this conflict.
First, leftists claim that open borders hurt workers by forcing union workers to compete with immigrants, sparking a “race to the bottom” for wages. So they propose that we severely cap legal immigration. Second, leftists insist that it is racist or unfair to enforce laws that require people who enter the United States to obtain permission first. They say that many people who cross the border illegally are just looking to earn higher wages and positively contribute to society by filling “jobs Americans won’t take.” So they propose that we grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.
The latter proposal would simulate the economic effects of mass legal immigration because formerly illegal workers would enter the market for legal labor. Immigration cannot both raise and lower the wages and living standards of working Americans at the same time, so the two leftist claims are mutually exclusive.
To remain in favor with the labor unions that peddle the first, demonstrably false claim that immigration causes a ‘race to the bottom’ for wages (see the National Research Council’s The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, which explains that immigration results in higher wages for the great majority of Americans), liberals vote against increasing legal immigration.
On May 23rd, 2007, then-Senator Obama voted ‘yea’ on Senator Byron Dorgan’s amendment to cap the number of temporary workers coming into the United States each year at 200,000. The bill that the Senate amended had previously contained a much-higher cap. On the same amendment, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin also voted against allowing more immigrants to enter the United States. A total of 28 Democrats voted against immigration that day, but the opposition joined with a small number of conservative Democrats to defeat the amendment.
Dorgan offered another amendment the following day to kill the Y-1 non-immigrant visa program, which provides foreign workers with temporary permission to enter the United States to perform a job. Thirty-eight Democrats joined him in the effort, but the opposition again rallied and defeated this economically ungrounded wage-protectionist chicanery.
Leftists insist that it is racist or unfair to enforce laws that require people who enter the United States to obtain permission first.
Because they support anti-immigration legislation, liberals risk losing support from Latinos. So as the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn has pointed out, Democrats feign support for immigration reform. McGurn notes that in 2007, Obama joined Senator Byron Dorgan in voting to shut down the guest-worker program that allows those looking for a better life in the United States to gain temporary entry while waiting for permanent resident status. Obama and Dorgan knew what they were doing, McGurn writes. They wanted to kill the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill to maintain the support of unions, but couldn’t vote against the final bill because it would anger other parts of the left-wing base.
Thus the Senators destroyed the moderate, compromise legislation (which Ted Kennedy helped construct, and which Jim DeMint helped derail for its concessions) indirectly, by inserting amendments to kill popular provisions like the guest-worker program. Obama and Dorgan’s amendment to kill the guest worker program passed, so their efforts paid off: conservatives and Republicans (both of whom generally recognize the benefits of immigration more often than leftists do) refused to support a bill that reduced immigration.
On trade, leftists seem hesitant to allow developing or developed nations that respect the rule of law, individual liberty and property rights to trade with the United States; trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Taiwan are stalled in the Democrat-controlled Congress. Leftists claim to believe that trade with these nations will lead to job losses here and falling wages abroad. But they are quite content to vote for free trade with politically or economically repressive regimes such as Cuba, China and Vietnam because, they acknowledge, access to the worldwide market for goods and services will improve people’s lives by creating jobs and raising wages.
On November 22nd, 2006, the United States signed a free trade agreement with Colombia. The Latin American nation was just beginning to emerge from an era of lawlessness and violence. With the help of several billion dollars of American aid, President Alvaro Uribe built up Colombia’s military and all but shut down both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (also known as the FARC – the narco-terrorist group infamous for the kidnapping of French national Ingrid Betancourt) and the FARC’s adversaries, Colombia’s illegitimate paramilitary groups. Now, a safer, more stable Colombia wants to open itself up to the world.
Since Colombia’s Constitutional Court ratified the agreement in July 2008, Congress has stalled. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned that the free exchange of goods and services between the United States and Colombia could “cost countless American workers their jobs and [do] profound harm to U.S. foreign policy.”
But Mr. Reid and many other Democrats also claim to believe that the free exchange of goods and services increases prosperity. In fact, they consistently vote to impose sanctions on the grounds that the damage caused by the lack of free trade might result in policy changes in the sanctioned nation. The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, which blocked trade between Burma and the United States, passed the House by 418-2 and the Senate by 94-1 (with Senator Reid voting ‘aye’). The 108th Congress passed the sanctions to punish Burma, which regularly jailed and killed political opponents, for politically and economically exploiting its people.
In 2001, Mr. Reid joined 87 other Senators in knocking down trade barriers with Vietnam by voting to override a law that prohibited trade with Communist countries. Vietnam had begun to liberalize its once-closed economy, and Reid’s vote means that he must have believed trade was good for the Vietnamese and good for Americans. But in 2003, Reid couldn’t bring himself to vote for free trade with Chile and Singapore. And in 2004, Reid was one of only 16 Senators to vote against a free trade agreement with Australia, an important ally in the war against terrorism.
There is great irony in Reid’s policies; the Senator uses capitalism to assist developing authoritarian, formerly Communist or anti-capitalist regimes, but opposes capitalism for developing free economies. But there is no excuse for harming developing free nations by restricting trade.
As a Senator, Barack Obama voted against a 2005 free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic, but saw no problem voting against the Cuba travel ban that same year. In 2006, Obama voted in favor of a free trade agreement with Oman, a small sultanate whose people are no less deserving than the people of the Dominican Republic. Obama voted to deny the wage increases and increased standards of living that result from free trade to some of the poorest people in the Western Hemisphere, but voted to grant these opportunities to equally deserving people half a world away.
Obama’s record on trade with Mexico is even worse; in 2007, Obama again joined with Byron Dorgan to vote against a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to deliver goods to American firms. Sen. Christopher Dodd, now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, joined them. These kind of anti-trade policies seem at odds with the left-wing goal of increasing equity. Free trade is an inherently equitable policy, because it provides opportunity to the people whose prospects are most challenging relative to others’ prospects.
Liberals in Congress should stop voting against immigration, and they must stop erecting trade barriers. Trade and legal immigration improve people’s lives by promoting equity, increasing living standards, and creating efficient markets via the free exchange of a wide variety of goods and services.