Does the Left Have an Understandable Position on Immigration and How Much Does It Matter?

by Don Rippert

Debate: The debate on immigration in America continues to rage. People who hold right-of-center political beliefs seem to think that the U.S. immigration laws should be vigorously enforced. There may be some “wiggle room” on the right. For example, some conservatives believe there should be exceptions to deportation for those illegally in the United States so long as they have been here a fairly long time, paid taxes, stayed out of legal trouble, etc. Without commenting on the reasonableness of the conservative position, it is understandable.

The position held by Americans with left-of-center political beliefs is hard to fathom. While few liberals will openly say they are in favor of “open borders” the sum total of their beliefs seems to indicate that “open borders” is exactly what they seek.

This issue is important for Virginia because some areas of Virginia have very low numbers of foreign born residents, while other areas have very high numbers of foreign-born residents. For example, the 2010 Census found that 12.9% of people living in America were foreign born. Virginia had 11.4% of its residents recorded as being foreign born. However, Arlington County (Virginia’s 6th most populous county) had a foreign born percentage of 28% in 2000. Social services are affected by immigration. The cost of teaching English as a second language in public schools is directly impacted by the percentage of residents born in foreign (non English speaking) countries.

Author’s apology in advance – this is a long post. By far the longest I have ever published. However, this is a complex topic with both liberals and conservatives more than willing to misrepresent the data. I saw no way to properly handle the topic with brevity.

Just the facts, ma’am. The discussion about immigration is bedeviled by accidentally erroneous and willfully inaccurate “facts.” Unfortunately, some of the best information still comes from the 2010 Census making that data almost a decade out of date. But facts are facts, and even nine-year-old facts provide insight. For the purposes of this discussion, foreign-born residents of the United States shall include naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary migrants, humanitarian migrants and unauthorized migrants.

The percentage of foreign born residents of the U.S. has been skyrocketing in recent decades. Going back to 1850 the percentage of foreign born residents had roughly equal twin peaks in 1890 and 1910 (at 14.75%). Starting in 1920 the percentage of foreign-born residents declined precipitously. That percentage went down every decade until it hit a low point of 4.7% in 1970. Since 1970 the percentage has increased every decade reaching 12.9% in 2010. The trend has apparently continued through the 2010s with Pew Research estimating 13.6% foreign born residents as of 2017.  The notion that the United States has been “shutting its doors to immigrants” is quite simply preposterous.

Most immigrants are in the country legally. Pew Research estimates that 77% of foreign born residents are in the country legally: 45% (20.7 million) naturalized citizens, 27% (12.3 million) lawful permanent residents, 5% (2.2 million) temporary lawful residents and 23% (10.5 million) unauthorized immigrants. No reasonable person believes we should deport naturalized citizens or lawful permanent residents. The discussion needs to be about the number of temporary visas to issue, the number of legal immigrants to allow and what to do with those here illegally.

The distribution of foreign born residents varies widely by geography. California checks in with 27.2% foreign born while West Virginia records a low of 1.2%.  The variation is extreme throughout Virginia as well. Manassas Park City recorded 31.6% between 2009 – 2013 while Highland County showed just 0.3% over the same period. Ninety-seven of Virginia’s municipalities had 5% or fewer foreign born, 25 had between 5.1% and 10%, five between 10.1% and 20%, seven between 20.1% and 30% and 1 over 30%. Every jurisdiction over 20% is in Northern Virginia. Richmond averages about 10%.

The economic impact of foreign born residents in the United States is hard to measure and politically contentious. Generally, direct social benefits are provided only to lawful permanent residents or naturalized citizens. However, children born to unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. automatically become US citizens. Should the social costs associated with these children count as a cost of immigration? Before you answer, remember that the vast majority of countries in the world, including all of Europe, do not grant birthright citizenship. One thing seems true – more immigrant-headed households (51%) use some form of welfare than native-born households (30%). Even this seemingly straightforward statistic is the subject of endless debate. I am using the Politifact analysis as a “referee.”

One thing seems sure – educating foreign-born children is more expensive than educating native born children.  Under U.S. law, all students, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to a free, public education. However the cost of providing this education to foreign-born students is somewhat debated. Left-leaning organizations tend to address the matter on a qualitative / humanitarian basis. For example: “We’re one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” said Jorge Baron, of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “We should be able to handle this if we focus our energy and some resources and we make sure that kids are treated well, and treated the way we, in America, believe kids should be treated.”  Right-wing organizations are more quantitative. Fox News (in 2014) estimated the cost of educating unauthorized / undocumented immigrant children was $760 million. Anti-immigration organization FAIR estimates the total costs of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) programs at $59.8 billion with Virginia recording a $1.3B cost. While I am suspicious of these FAIR numbers, I am equally convinced that educating the children of immigrants (especially including the citizenship birthright children) is expensive.

The influx of migrant children is increasing. EdWeek published some interesting statistics on migrant children:

  • Historically, most undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. were adult males in search of employment.  More recently, most people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are “unaccompanied minors” and families with children, many of them who turn themselves into officials to make asylum claims.
  • In fiscal year 2018, 107,000 families with children and 50,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border, a 42% and 22% increase respectively, over the previous year.
  • The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement served fewer than 8,000 children annually from fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2012, the first nine years they tracked the numbers. In fiscal 2018 alone, the agency served nearly 50,000 children.

“So far in fiscal year 2019, we’ve had four record-breaking months of apprehensions of family units at the southern border,” says Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

The wrap: Leftists and “Never Trump” Republicans seem tireless in criticizing Donald Trump’s efforts to control immigration. Terms like “know-nothing” and “nativist” are tossed with impunity. These same people seem to forget that Barack Obama was once known as “the deporter in chief” and, as of 2016, had deported more people than any other president. Trump, on the other hand, has slowed the level of deportations from his predecessor. Meanwhile, against the backdrop of continually escalating immigration, sanctuary cities and anti-ICE protests continue to gain momentum. What is it that the left and Never Trumpers want (other than to criticize Trump)? If it’s open borders then say so!  Just remember to explain how you intend to pay for those open borders.

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19 responses to “Does the Left Have an Understandable Position on Immigration and How Much Does It Matter?

  1. One problem we have this days is when folks try to define the position of their opponents…so lets look at some numbers on attitudes:

    Then lets ask if the “left” attitudes towards immigration has shifted then ask the same question for the right.

    When did we start talking about sending dreamers back and who used to want tol let the dreamers stay and who wants to send them back ?

    I don’t think the left’s position on dreamers has changed much. Is that true of the right?

    If you look at polls on attitudes – they use this as a benchmark:

    ” Majority of Americans continue to say immigrants strengthen the U.S.
    The American public’s views of the impact immigrants have on the country remain largely positive – and deeply partisan.

    Partisan gap in views of immigrants as wide as at any point in at least 25 yearsAs in recent years, a majority (62%) say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. Just 28% say immigrants are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing and health care, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.”


    • Polls on attitudes don’t impress me. I’ve probably read 35 so-called studies on the modern effect of immigration on America over the past few days. I’m appalled at how obviously slanted the so-called studies are. Both the left and the right misstate and manipulate the data. The only even-handed “study” I saw was the 2010 Census. People with a propensity to lean right will read right leaning studies. People with a propensity to lean left will read left leaning studies. Either way, their attitudes don’t mean much to me. They’ve been brainwashed.

      I don’t know about risking our identity as a nation. I don’t even know what that means. Our identity as a nation has certainly evolved over time. As long as immigrants assimilate I struggle to understand how immigration would “risk” our identity.

      The “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” is a better question. At least I can qualitatively understand the point. Two interesting observations – 1) Dems and Republicans were almost identical in 1994 and 2) The change between 1994 and now has been almost entirely a change in Dem / Lean Dem attitudes. If lefties really believe immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” why wouldn’t you want open borders?

  2. If you take just the dreamer issue alone – most Dems have pretty much always supported citizenship but the GOP position on citizenship for dreamers has shifted and hardened – and will not agree on that issue which is hardly “open borders”. So the “open borders” has become a canard to claim that – the dreamers is not the only thing the Dems want – they want much more than that.

    So the obvious question is not uncertainty as to where the Dems are but WHAT the GOP would support – starting with dreamers.

    Only the truly left wants open borders but what does the right actually support – dreamers?

    In other words is there anything at all that left and right can find compromise on?

    • I have no idea why you would take the dreamer issue alone. That’s like analyzing the usefulness of a car by examining only the transmission.

      I also don’t think that conservatives have hardened their view on dreamers. It’s a form of amnesty. Most conservatives have maintained that amnesty was tried once by Reagan along with the promise of effective immigration enforcement. The amnesty happened, the enforcement didn’t. What was it The Who sang? Won’t get fooled again?

      Conservatives believe that Congress should set relatively conservative immigration quotas and those quotas should be enforced. There are only two ways to enforce immigration limits – prevent entry and deport violators. Conservatives want to do both. They want to build a wall – whether it’s a physical wall or a virtual wall based on surveillance technology to prevent entry. They then expect local and state law enforcement to cooperate with ICE in identifying people in the country illegally and deporting them.

      Liberals don’t really care what limits on immigration are set by Congress because they don’t support either method of enforcing the limits. They don’t want a wall (physical or virtual) despite knowing that hundreds or thousands of people are illegally crossing the border daily. They want to establish states, counties and cities where local law enforcement won’t assist in identifying illegal migrants or work with federal law enforcement. In Virginia, Arlington, Chesterfield and Fairfax Counties are “sanctuary counties”. Let’s see …

      Don’t stop illegal migration at the border (effectively) + don’t apprehend people who cross the border illegally = open borders.

      Bill Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union address …

      “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens … It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

      When Obama presented his health care plan to Congress in 2009, he specifically asserted that undocumented immigrants would not be eligible for subsidies.

      Barack Obama in 2014 …

      “That is our direct message to the families in Central America: Do not send your children to the borders.” The U.S. Border Patrol, he said, should be able to “stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over … Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable.”

      Pete Buttigieg, earlier this year during a Democratic debate, “This is not about a handout. This is an insurance program. We do ourselves no favors by having 11 million undocumented people in our country be unable to access health care.”

      Even Politico gets it. Commenting on the Democratic debaters, “These candidates aren’t explicitly advocating open borders, but taken together, the policies advocated amount to almost the same thing.”

      “Right now, however, all of the candidates (except perhaps for Biden, whose half-hand raise was a masterstroke of noncommittalism) have put themselves clearly on the record for sharply liberalizing immigration, and none appears to be willing to say anything with any specificity about one question: Should there be any limit on who gets to come to the United States?”

      Those are Politico’s words Larry … not mine, not Fox News, not the Koch Brother.

      Northern Virginia is the surplus generating economic engine of the state. It’s why there are hospitals in Lee County and functioning schools in Bath County. If your buddies at the Democratic debate get their way and implement open borders, what happens? We stop educating immigrants or we stop funding RoVa?

      Over a period of decades immigrants (even illegal) may well be a net economic benefit for the US. However, I don’t believe that’s true for the first years an illegal immigrant is in the US. We have far below average economic growth in Virginia since the Great Recession. We have Aubry Lane squawking about a pending recession in Virginia. Can we really afford the Democrats’ vision of open borders?

  3. I will say it–I support “open borders”, with the stipulation that we deny entry to known criminals and any others that present a security or health risk. These are human beings who are fleeing poverty and violence and seeking a better life. The vast majority of them just want to provide for their families, the same as the rest of us. As Don’s statistics point out, there have been periods in the history of this country in which the percentage of the population that was foreign born was higher than it is now. And this country not only survived having those large numbers of immigrants come in, it thrived. It seems to me that any country would be glad to have people who were courageous enough to leave everything they had behind and walk hundreds of miles in dangerous conditions to get here. Talk about toughness and perseverance. I don’t think I could have done it. (Open borders would not mean automatic citizenship. The basic process for obtaining citizenship would remain in place.)

    • I will say it–I support “open borders” …

      If the Democratic candidates for President would adopt your level of honesty we could have an intelligent conversation on immigration.

      For what it’s worth – this was the best article on open borders I’ve read …

      Some of it is leftist hooey – like the immigration as reparation segment. Some of it is economic hooey – like the commentary by Reece Jones, a Virginian now working as a professor at the University of Hawaii. Jones is paraphrased …

      “Addressing the scare that there would be a massive influx to the US, he gave the example of Maryland and West Virginia, far apart in terms of economic prosperity; the GDP of Maryland is about $399 billion, whereas the GDP of West Virginia is $74 billion, and minimum wage and average annual salaries mirror that disparity. And yet there hasn’t been a flood of West Virginians into Maryland. Why not? Because people are tied to their homes and their culture, because migrating isn’t easy or enacted on a lark.”

      In reality, 10% fewer people live in West Virginia today than lived there in 1950 while the population of Maryland has almost tripled over the same period. While I suppose we could debate the term “flood” the reality is that the superior economic performance of Maryland over West Virginia has resulted in a very lopsided growth story.

  4. A conversation I wouldn’t have minded joining, but not on Friday night….got better things to do then…didn’t go back into the restaurant kitchen to check IDs….

    Congress has come close to passing legislation that I would applaud. It would include stronger border security, a wall in places where that works (we’d pay, not Mexico). No, I do not support open borders. But I would be open to an increase in legal immigration. The legislation always hangs up on what to do with the millions already here who entered illegally, or entered legally but didn’t leave when required. Both sides grandstand that and the bill dies.

    Getting them all to leave, even getting a large segment to leave, is impossible. People who expect that will happen are the true dreamers. Jackson’s Trail of Tears will pale…. And the economy would largely collapse, IMHO, if we woke up tomorrow and they were all gone. You have the same chance of retroactively disarming America, the impossible dream of the Left. I favor a legal presence and a path to citizenship for those here with a clean record, and then a full concentration on removing those with criminal records. But coupled with rock hard borders. Come in legally.

    I’d be interested in seeing the results of that poll, Larry, for years before the Trump election. But on this one, Trump is clearly a symptom – he tapped the issue deeper than anyone has in a long time and reaped the votes. Before him, there was Corey Stewart, others. DJ’s position is politically very powerful. Economically it’s a path to doomsday. With our birthrates and the aging population, where else is the workforce coming from? Virginia is at full employment and thus stalled economically because of the workforce shortage.

    DJ, go see a movie called “A Day Without A Mexican” and see the Northern VA economy you would create. I’m happy to educate those children, much happier about that than all the money spent in the city of Richmond with its abysmal results and what that bodes for the future.

    If Trump spoke about the issue the way previous presidents have, who’d care? But he takes a truly despicable tack, racist, xenophobic, appealing the the basest instincts. His rhetoric makes it impossible to merely judge his actions. Yesterday he attacks the Fed president as an enemy, a greater enemy than the murderous ChiCom dictator. Presidents have angered or disappointed me, but this one shames us. Shames me. I wasn’t “Never Trump” two years ago, but I surely am now.

    Trump forces the key ethical debate – does the end justify the means. Three years in I agree with much of what he has done, seeks to do, most action of his cabinet. But the means rise to the level of evil and taint the end beyond hope. He has destroyed the GOP (watch this November, its gonna be uuuugly and not just in VA). Having displayed all the extreme stereotypes Democrats use to attack Republicans, he will be replaced by someone who displays the extreme stereotypes Republicans have used against them. Trump will give you what you fear, DJ – true open borders in the next administration.

    • DJ, go see a movie called “A Day Without A Mexican” …

      I lived that movie for the first 20 years of my life. My buddy Jose was the only Hispanic person I knew growing up. Northern Virginia worked just fine and dandy before the influx of Hispanic immigrants. After all … there were Vietnamese immigrants, Korean immigrants, Cambodian immigrants and a small army of people from the rural south that had the gumption to move where the employment prospects were bright.

      Has the influx of immigrants (from Mexico and elsewhere) contributed to NoVa’s economic strength? Of course. 73% of the students accepted into Thomas Jefferson High School this Fall are Asian-Americans. While I don’t know their immigration status I would guess that a high percentage of those students are first or second generation. You know what I think about that? Good for them! They studied, they prepared, they took the test and they got the high grades required for admission.

      I also find your reference about Mexicans and NoVa to be odd. Only 1.7% of people in Fairfax County are of Mexican ancestry. By contrast, 4% are Salvadorian. As of 2010, 15.58% of Fairfax County residents were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 17.53% were Asian. So, “A Day without A Mexican” in Fairfax County would be pretty much like any other day – give or take the 1.7% of Fairfax County residents with Mexican heritage.

  5. Don touches upon the ongoing debate over how much illegal immigrants cost the U.S. in educational and social services. Two biggies that impact us on the state/local level are the cost of educating English as a Second Language students and providing health care services (typically in an emergency room setting).

    Question: How much more do school systems spend on ESL students than English-speaking students? Don touches on this topic but didn’t provide any hard numbers.

    Question: How much do hospitals spend on emergency room services to illegals, whom they can’t turn away? I doubt anyone has numbers, but talk to any emergency room physician, and they’ll tell you that a high percentage of patients are illegals.

  6. Don, if you want to pursue the immigration issue, you might consult the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a center-left think tank in Richmond. CI has done a prodigious amount of research on the topic (I wonder who their sponsor is). It always comes with a pro-immigration slant, of course, but it’s solid stuff.

    My main objection to CI’s work is the chronic unwillingness to distinguish between immigrants who came to the U.S. legally and those who came illegally. That seems to be a regular trope of liberal rhetoric — “immigrants” make a huge contribution to the country. That’s true. But it’s also true that some immigrants make a bigger contribution than others — and cost taxpayers less.

  7. Liberals love to point to Europe as a model for U.S. social welfare policy, especially health care. What they never allude to is the fact that most European nations have much tighter controls on whom they admit into their countries. If you maintain a generous welfare state, you can’t let the world in. And, as we see in Europe’s own immigration crisis, half the world does want in.

    (Dick: Can you do a fiscal analysis of your open-borders proposals?)

    I especially agree with Don’s headline. The liberal position on illegal immigration is unintelligible. Medicare for All, expand Medicare for All to include illegal immigrants, and open up the borders! I agree with Steve that Trump’s immigration rhetoric has been ugly, but at least he isn’t insane!

    • No, I don’t have the skills nor the time to do a fiscal impact analysis of an open border. I have a feeling that it would be a massive undertaking.

      Many of the comments regarding the costs of illegal immigrants (ESL, emergency rooms, etc.) seem to assume that these people are just sitting around taking advantage of the welfare benefits of the U.S. To the contrary, these people are working. According to Pew, “Unauthorized immigrant men are more likely than U.S.-born men to be in the labor force. Among those ages 18 to 64, 91% of unauthorized immigrant men and 79% of U.S.-born men were in the workforce in 2016.” They are contributing to the economy–they pay rent, they buy things (sales tax), probably pay income taxes and Social Security, as well. Their work may be seasonal or sporadic and, often, their pay is low, but they are working.

  8. Larry, once again you conflate legal and illegal immigration. What if we conflated justifiable homicide and unjustifiable homicide?

    Steve, I bet the movie “A Day without a Mexican” did not address the impact of illegal workers on domestic workers. George W Bush’s “Jobs Americans won’t do” was a big lie. Answer this, please.

    “Advocates of unskilled immigration argue that there are many jobs that Americans simply will not do. In reality, a majority of workers in just about every occupation identified by the Census Bureau are U.S.-born. For example, more than half of maids are native-born, as are 64 percent of meatpackers, 65 percent of construction laborers, and 66 percent of groundskeepers. Wages in all of these sectors show stagnation or long-term decline, so if there is a great need for such workers, why not let wages rise? Higher wages would increase work incentives and improve the lives of the poorest and least educated Americans.

    “Getting Americans to do farm work is probably the most challenging case, but agriculture employs only 2 percent of all immigrants (legal and illegal) and only 4 percent of all illegals. We should not let an economic sector that employs such a tiny share of immigrants drive the whole immigration debate.”

    I guess it’s OK to screw American maids, meatpackers, construction workers and groundskeepers with the myth that Americans don’t have those jobs. I think if you support open borders or wide-based amnesty, you should be able to reconcile your arguments that illegal workers are needed with their impact on low-skilled American workers.

    Dick, I too commend your honest and candid statement. But it’s crystal clear that low-skilled, unauthorized workers don’t pay sufficient taxes to pay for the services that they consume. And the bulk of the benefits of paying below-market wages go to the employers but the costs are passed on to the public. Fairfax County Public School officials once admitted that, if the immigration laws were enforced, their budgets would be lower; class sizes would be smaller and more electives, etc. would be available to students of all races and ethnic backgrounds. As a moral matter, don’t those who would agree with you have a obligation, along with the businesses that employ illegal workers, to pay higher taxes to support the added costs of illegal immigration? Is it really morally right to satisfy one’s generosity on the backs of one’s neighbors?

    We may well need higher levels of legal immigration. But, especially, in an economy moving towards mechanization of low-skilled tasks, we don’t need more unskilled workers. We need well educated, high-skilled people irrespective of their nationality and we need them to enter the U.S. under the rules. And we need to punish those employers that don’t follow the rules drastically. Perhaps, a prison term for repeat offenders.

    • Starting with Trump’s companies and properties, I presume.

      • Steve – across the board. In fact, I’d have no problem if the first company the feds went after was Trump’s.

        We need to go after employers. No employer with say 10 or more employees should be permitted to deduct any payroll or 1099 expenses costs for any employee or long-term contractors absent proper proof of E-Verify compliance. And nothing for the five highest compensated employees. So you run a restaurant with lots of illegal workers. Or a meatpacking plant with 100% of the employees beyond the owner as unauthorized. Pay these taxes for a couple years and one might find it easier and more profitable to hire legal workers and pay market wages.

  9. I think what we need is an illegal alien tax.

    You can hire as many illegal aliens as you want, but you must pay a yearly tax for each one. Perhaps $10,000 would be a good number.

  10. The issue of whether we enforce our laws or not and the meaning and impact on our society overall of governors, mayors, sheriffs and congresspeople boasting that not only will they not enforce the law they will take measures to prevent authorities from doing so eclipses any discussion about the impact, desirability, cost or whatever of immigration. I’ll go further.

    If this continues on the trajectory being advocated by a number of presidential candidates and the party that purports to represent more than half of America, there’s no point in the discussion above because we will lose all control to manage our society according to anyone’s dogma. left or right.

    • Fair point. More on the rule of law than immigration but a fair point. There is a lot of extra-constitutional behavior in America these days. In my opinion, Obama started the deluge with presidential orders that bypassed the intent of the Constitution if not the letter of the Constitution. Of course, the US Supreme Court has been doing this for year. The imaginary right to privacy envisioned in Roe v Wade was perhaps the worst offense. If the left wants abortion for all then they should amend the Constitution to allow that.

      The “we won’t cooperate with ICE” idiots are only the latest version of this vermin.

      Congress needs to start legislating again instead of cowering behind the judicial robes of Supreme Court justices and the truly bizarre inclinations of various county boards of supervisors, mayors, etc.

      Congress has become the laughingstock of political America.

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