Monday, June 18, 2007

Apologia for half-hearted progressive democrats

Dave at Orcinus persuasively argues:

The immigration debate, for those progressives deeply involved in it, has felt rather like waiting for Godot -- we know our fellow progressives are going to be coming along any day now to join the journey toward effective reform. Still, we sit and sit, checking our watches as the clock ticks down, and we wonder.

So far, the debate has almost entirely revolved around the division between rival factions of the right: the corporate conservatives who have benefited from the status quo and would benefit even more from a "guest worker" program; and the nativist bloc that wants every one of the 12 million "illegal aliens" in America rounded up and "sent back where they came from."

If there is a progressive position, it hasn't been enunciated clearly at all -- which means that there has been precious little advocacy from the left. It's well past time for that to change.

but I nonetheless disagree, at least insofar as the observation pertains to elected officials. 2008 abolutely, positively, has to be won. Stevens is 87 and the Fifth vote on Roe. If the US invades Iran, every possible hope of stemming the violence in Iraq is lost, and a long term troop commitment is inevitable. And we are past the point where long term institutional damage to democracy in the executive branch will be easily reversible.

Immigrant hating is popular. It just is, right now, and the Republican center is willing to be the punching bag about it. This not only provides cover to the democratic candidate, it makes it less likely that the GOP will nominate its most centrist candidates. And since there are very few democratic votes in the Senate against the reform in the first place, and Bush is pressuring his own party, it is very likely that the votes necessary to pass the bill will come from the GOP.

None of this excuses the absence of our involvement in the private sector, and Orcinus' recent posts have been excellent models of cyber-journo-activism on the issue. The breathtaking marches last year did not appear to be imputed to congressional democrats, and probably did much to soften the ultimate bill.


slickdpdx said...

There are many jobs with dirt wages and terrible conditions, in part, because the labor is illegal. These jobs will get done by non-illegals if immigration and labor laws are enforced.

Reasonable limits on legal immigration and enforcement of current immigration and labor laws are good policy. I don't see a benefit to society at large from amenesty. What is it?

Flinger said...

Much of the answer to that question turns on exactly what is considered the boundaries of "society at large." This question doesn't resolve the issue entirely -- one could believe that immigration is bad for the sending country, or that it is good for the receiving country -- but it is a critical frame.
Although many many people I respect a great deal -- among them Ezra Klein -- have taken the position that American policy-makers owe their primary duties to Americans, I dont think it follows -- moral duties come from the capacity of those we affect to experience pleasure and pain, and to imbue their own lives with subjective meaning. This respects no national boundaries and does not depend on national origin.
Accordingly, the primary reason I think that it is a good idea to legalize presently illegal immigrants is that it is good for them. And this benefit is so direct and substantial, that I would have to believe firmly in the incentivizing effect of legalization on further illegal immigration, and also believe that illegal immigration is such a net negative in order to oppose legalization. I'm not there yet.

Candidly, my sentiment could very well be a visceral reaction to the racial overtones of the debate and a feeling of unfairness when those working shit jobs for our benefit are made to bear the negative costs of immigration. Representing folks who are rotuinely doing 4-8 years federal time for a second border crossing (96 months for wading?) probably plays a role.

There are of course plenty of people that see the life of shadows created by the threat of deportation as a necessary tragedy rather than an appropriate act of retribution, and who seek to restrict immigration out of genuine concern about its effects on our labor standards and environment.

I'm just being honest about my blind spots.

slickdpdx said...

Excellent response for a self-confessed poop flinger!

I am sympathetic to workers from other countries who illegally cross the border for work in ours. But I am also concerned that sympathy for those you can put a face to shouldn't overwhelm your sympathy for the group that it is harder to put a face to and that is hurt. Although illegal immigrants provide benefits to the upper classes I think they hurt those nearer the bottom.

I also struggle with the inequity of rewarding the rule breakers when there are so many others who follow the immigration rules. Granted some of them are assisted by lawyers who can argue that their monied clients are uniquely qualified to do this or that. Most legal immigrants are fairly pedestrian cases.

The sentences are sometimes draconian - but that's a different matter. I realize that the sentences are especially hard because most illegal border crossers are really decent people.

The nativists/racists lost this debate overall from the very beginning since this country has permitted and encouraged substantial numbers of immigrants. Those whose approach to the subject is tainted by racism - shouldn't taint our analysis of immigration policy. Ignoring them, what's the best policy? Ultimately we probably disagree, but it is an interesting discussion.

I oppose a general amnesty. Its mostly a feel-good proposal to my mind. It doesn't address many of the issues at hand and its not sound policy.

I also don't like guest worker proposals because they carry most of the negative effects on our worst off citizens and few of the positives that assimilating new Americans has.

I think we do have an obligation and an interest in helping countries on our borders prosper in the sense of encouraging basic material security and political liberties. On the other hand, no one likes a meddler. Ugh. Now I have a headache. Back to work...