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Froma Harrop: Democrats need an immigration policy fast

 

Froma Harrop

 

 

In recent months, the political leadership of two neighboring countries with large immigration programs issued very different messages. They would be the United States and Canada.  

 

In the United States, President Trump and his Republican allies vilified the "caravan" of Central Americans making their way toward the border. They are a gang of diseased criminals and Middle Eastern terrorists, he said without evidence.  

 

Democrats stayed mostly mum about the thousands seemingly intent on entering the United States illegally. A few had reacted to the barbaric policy of separating parents from children with radical calls to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (That stance could be what sank Andrew Gillum in Florida.)  

 

Democrats lucked out in having Trump to run against. And they were smart in the final days of the campaign to ignore Trump's desperate fearmongering against immigrants. They stuck to safe issues for them, such as health care. But now that they will control the House, Democrats need a coherent immigration policy right away. It can't be -- or even appear to be -- favoring open borders.  

 

Listen to how Canada's minister of immigration, Ahmed Hussen, responded to a convoy of Haitians headed toward the Quebec border: "We don't want people to illegally enter our border, and doing so is not a free ticket to Canada. We are saying, 'You will be apprehended, screened, detained, fingerprinted, and if you can't establish a genuine claim, you will be denied refugee protection and removed.'"  

 

See? No attacks on the Haitians' character. No racial smears. Hussen's message was clear. In no uncertain terms, Canada's immigration laws would be enforced. And that's a big reason Canada's large immigration program is less controversial than ours.  

 

Polls in the United States show large support for giving legal status to the "Dreamers," immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. They show widespread horror at the administration's policy of separating undocumented immigrant parents from their children. They also show overwhelming support for immigration enforcement.  

 

These views are not contradictory. One could look at the caravan and see young, able-bodied people of faith willing to work hard in the United States. You could also see the danger in spreading the idea that, in Hussen's words, illegally crossing the border is "a free ticket" into the United States.  

 

Democrats, your dream of expanding health care security is incompatible with opening the door wide to the world's poor. Canada immediately enrolls immigrants in its national health care system, another reason for enforcement.  

 

We should want some of the impoverished strivers, but we must also rebalance the entry requirements to, like Canada, favor entrants with needed skills. The hope of restoring blue-collar America is futile if we flood the labor market with low-skilled competitors.  

 

When Barack Obama tried to enforce our immigration laws by removing many undocumented entrants, ethnic advocates bashed him as "deporter in chief." Many Democrats were too cowardly to defend the president.  

 

Hillary Clinton's campaign, drowning in identity politics, seemed unable to squeak out an opposition to open borders. That almost certainly contributed to her loss in key Rust Belt states. 

 

Trump's racist attacks on immigrants understandably sicken many Latinos. But that doesn't quite translate into a passion for open borders. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that 54 percent of Hispanic registered voters did not regard a candidate's view on immigration as a deal breaker. They put education, jobs and the economy, and health care higher on their list of concerns.  

 

It's socially disrupting when only right-wingers seem to support defending the borders. Democrats must make clear that they want an immigration system that is generous and welcoming but also wedded to enforcing the laws. Now is the time to do it.

 

 

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