Now that it seems that Bernie Sanders may become the Democrat nominee for the 2020 presidential elections it is time to see where Sanders stands on immigration. Although I am unable to vote, as I am not a citizen, I like many others have special interests when it comes to politics. I have two primary issues: taxes and immigration. However, I now have a third primary issue the usurps my other two primary issues. It is the removal of Donald Trump from office. Trump has been nothing but destructive towards immigrants. Hatefully so.
Like many others, I am now faced with the question of whether the Democrats can put forth a candidate able to beat Trump. Politics and public policy thus must take a back seat. However, without knowing who the Democrats will select it is impossible to focus on who can beat Trump.
As a result, today I’d like to focus on Bernie Sanders and immigration.
Nationally, the plight of the immigrant has become central to the national policy debates. Although it is easy to point to Donald Trump, the debate on immigration has been ongoing for decades. Trump has just pushed it higher up the debates.
Thus, while creating the contrast between Trump and the Democrat contenders it is easy to argue being pro-immigrant. But, the Democrats have traditionally not fully embraced immigration historically, in many ways being hostile towards immigrants.
Rather than rely on what Bernie Sanders is now saying about immigration for political points it is useful to see how he has voted at the Senate.
In 2007, with an immigrant friendly president at the White House, George W. Bush, and the two houses of Congress controlled by the Democrats it was thought that immigration reform was now possible. The Mexican president, Vicente Fox and George Bush happily believed that substantial immigration reform was within their grasp.
Three Republicans – Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), yes that Lindsey Graham, teamed up with Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Harry Reid (D-NV) to deliver to Bush an immigration reform bill he would sign into law.
Herein lies how immigration reform is impossible for the Democrats while they rely on labor for their support. The failure of the bill also demonstrates how so-called immigrant friendly groups interfere with immigration reform. It is also demonstrates how Bernie Sanders will vote for labor at the cost of immigration reform.
Let’s break it down.
The proposed immigration reform bill was supported by most Democrats and generally opposed by the Republicans, mostly because it included amnesty. However, Bush supported signing the bill if it passed through Congress.
The AFL-CIO opposed the bill because of the provision allowing guest workers to enter the work force.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) also opposed the 2007 immigration reform bill because of the guest worker provision.
LULAC cited its opposition because it felt the guest program led to the exploitation of immigrant labor.
However, this does not make sense considering that the bill proposed legalizing millions of new citizens, thus empowering new Latino voters. Additionally, as guest workers, immigrants could avail themselves of the legal system whenever they were exploited.
Rather, LULAC’s opposition, like that of the AFL-CIO had to more to do with foreign labor competition than the protection of the immigrant labor. The guest worker provision would have allowed immigrants to apply for two-year work permits to come work in the U.S., in addition to legalizing those already in the U.S.
As a result, the guest worker provision was opposed by the Democrats which in turn alienated the support from the Republicans who wanted the guest worker provision in the bill. Although the Democrats controlled the Senate, they needed the support from some Republicans to keep them from filibustering the bill.
One such amendment by Byron Dorgan (D-ND) ended the guest program in the bill. One of the backers of the Dorgan amendment was then senator, Barack Obama.
In the end the bill died in the Senate when the closure vote was 14 votes short of the votes needed to move the bill forward. Sixteen Democrats voted with most of the Republicans to kill the bill. Twelve Republicans voted with the Democrats to move the bill forward.
In the end, it was the sixteen Democrats that killed the last to push forth towards immigration reform.
One of the sixteen Democrats that killed the bill was Bernie Sanders.
Sanders argues today that he opposed the bill because the guest worker provision made for “semi-slavery” workers. However, what Bernie Sanders said at the floor of the Senate debating the immigration reform bill clearly explains why he opposed it.
He said that the bill was about “bringing into this country over a period of years millions of low-wage temporary workers with the result that wages and benefits in this country, which are already going down, will go down even further.”
On June 29, 2007, the bill died at the Senate when the vote failed on a cloture vote 46 to 53. To move the bill forward it needed 60 votes. In addition to Bernie Sanders voting no on moving the bill forward, sixteen additional Democrats also voted no. They were: Max Baucus (D-MT), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Byrd (D-WV), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Debbie Stabenow (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and James Webb (D-VA).
Interestingly, Joe Biden (D-DE) voted to move the bill forward.
Make no mistake, the last opportunity this country had for immigration reform died at the Senate because 16 Democrats voted against the rest of their party. The Democrats were in control of both houses of Congress and the Republican president, George W. Bush was willing to sign the legislation.
When the Democrats today argue that they support substantial immigration reform it is important to remember that when they had the opportunity to do so, they failed because of the debate over issuing work permits to immigrant workers. Likewise, immigrant advocacy groups, like LULAC, pretend to support immigration reform as long as it does not affect their membership.
When Bernie Sanders had the opportunity to vote for immigration reform, he voted against it.