Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders; Part II – Reason 4: Population Movements

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders

Part II – Reason 4: Population Movements


Howard Adelman

The right of people to move and to be able to find a safe and secure place to live on this globe, while, at the same time, preserving the nation-state system where the state assumes the responsibility for the safety and security of its own citizens, has been a predominant philosophical interest of my academic career. So it should be no surprise that my ear has been most highly attuned to issues of population movements for employment, immigration and refugees. The issue has not been a marquee issue for the Democrats as it has been for the Republicans; it was not raised as an issue in Thursday night’s debate in Brooklyn.

However, in the Democratic primary in Florida over a month ago, the most moving moment in any of the debates took place when a Guatemalan mother of five,  , stood up and, in Spanish, expressed her great pain (dolor), and asked both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders what they would do to reunite her and her five children with her husband who had been deported three years ago as an “illegal” alien. “I have a great pain, me and my children, because the father of my children was deported. What will you do to stop deportations and reunite families?”

If that appeal was moving, what touched the audience at least as much was the effort of the Univision reporter, Enrique Acevedo, to tenderly whisper the translation of both Hillary’s and Bernie’s responses into Lucía’s ear as the two candidates answered her question. Both candidates pledged to change America’s policies on deportation. 4.5 million U.S. citizen children live in families in which one parent is an undocumented immigrant. Over 5,000 American children live in foster care because both parents have been detained or deported. Both candidates vowed not to deport undocumented migrants who had no criminal records. The most interesting part of their answers was not their pledges to reunite divided families, but what they said in addition and how they said it.

Hillary Clinton expressed empathy. “Please know how brave I think you are coming here with your children to tell your story. This is an incredible act of courage that I’m not sure many people really understand.” Bernie erred in saying that, “your children [who were sitting in the row beside her] deserve to be with their mother.” But it was the father who had been deported. Hillary was personal; Bernie was not only formulaic, but he let us know that he was not a good listener. Much more importantly, I never heard a journalist challenge Bernie’s advocacy of economic nationalism and the protection of the jobs of American workers with his pledge not to divide the families of undocumented immigrants. Further, if the minimum wage were to be raised to $15, would this serve as a magnet for the in-migration of more undocumented aliens or would such a change deter the propensity of employers to hire undocumented immigrants because there would be more American-born citizens willing to take such jobs?

There is not a great deal of evidence for the latter, though raising the minimum wage is critical for egalitarian and social justice reforms much more than any impact on immigration. The most important impact would be on low income American women. Therefore, before we deal with the impact of raising the minimum wage on immigration, let’s deal more generally with the impact of a raise in the minimum wage that has been such a critical part of the Democratic Party platform, but particularly that of Bernie’s. According to one calculation, if the minimum wage were raised to 1968 levels, it would double to an average of $19.50 not $9.50. So as large as Bernie’s proposal is in the American egalitarian wilderness, it is still a relatively very modest proposal, but not nearly as miniscule as President Obama’s plan, facing an obstreperous Republican dominated Congress, to raise the minimum wage mandated by the federal government from $7.50 to $9. The difference between Bernie and Hillary (as well as Governor Cuomo in New York State and various Democratic mayors, like the mayor of Seattle) is that they propose to phase the increase in over 2-3 years to allow employers to adjust.

Even the increase to $9 might eliminate jobs for American workers that Bernie has pledged to protect. But the losses would be minimal. Dale Belman and Paul J. Wolfson in their comprehensive study of other studies concluded that moderate increases have “little or no effect on employment and hours.” Alan Krueger of Princeton, in comparing New Jersey’s modest minimum wage increase with Pennsylvania’s non-increase, showed that the cost of the increase is passed onto consumers. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to $9 was expected to eliminate 100,000 jobs, but an estimated 7.6 million low-wage workers would see a boost in their weekly earnings. Raising it to $10 would lead to a reduction of 500,000 jobs, but 16.5 million low-wage workers would realize substantial income gains. The higher you go in the increase, the larger the number of Americans that benefit, and the greater the possibility that more jobs are eliminated.

That is the trade-off. I personally support that trade-off for a number of reasons, all independent of any impact on immigration. But a $15 minimum wage almost certainly would mean the elimination of a large number of jobs. For example, in Seattle the first significant casualty of the increase in the minimum wage to $15 resulted from the relocation of a camping equipment manufacturer, Cascade Designs, to Nevada, ostensibly because the minimum wage was raised to $15. However, I believe, such an increase would create possibly even more jobs by raising the monies available to low income earners for expenditures, especially because of the ripple effect of an increased minimum wage. The biggest burden would be borne by the young, mostly in the fast food industry, but, if complemented by free tertiary education tuition, this impact would be partially offset. Would raising the minimum wage affect migration patterns, my major concern?

The United States lacks an investment economic incentive for immigration, though partially offset by other mechanisms. The approximately just over a million migrants a year who receive green cards are divided into four major categories. I offer very rough averages for each category:

  1. Employment (divided roughly in half between students or individuals employed applying to adjust their status and their other family members, about 20% in each sub-category);
  2. Direct Family Reunification via family sponsorship (the majority);
  3. Diversity Lottery Migrants (55,000) (about 5%)
  4. Refugees (just over 5%).

Two of my children fell into the first category as professors at American post-secondary institutions who had their status converted under an employment-preference visa. A third received a green card from within the tiny category, not included above, of what is – believe it or not – called “extraordinary aliens.” She is an artist. So half my children are Americans, but none arrived as refugees, under the DLM program, or under the family reunification program.

Family-based green-card holders include both immediate relatives (spouses, children under 21 years-of-age, and parents of U.S. citizens), representing 44% on average of those who acquire Green Cards in category 2 above and half of the first category (about 21% of the total) who accompany those who acquire citizenship out of employment considerations. The two categories taken together take up, on average, about two-thirds of those who acquire Green Cards. This is a much higher percentage than in Canada, but it is not a major issue in general or in the differences between Hillary and Bernie.

The third category, the Green Card Diversity Visa Lottery (DVL), allows for 55,000 visas to be distributed by lottery to about 8 to 10 million applicants. (The numbers jumped by about 20% in 2014 when applications from Uzbekistan, Nigeria, and Iran increased enormously.) Applicants have to have high school completion or equivalent work experience to apply with their families and must come from countries underrepresented in the immigrant pool immigrating to the U.S. (Canada, for example, does not qualify.) The quota is divided among six geographic regions—Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South/Central America and the Caribbean. No single country can receive more than 7% of available DVL slots in one year.

Bernie’s proposal to eliminate this class about a decade ago specified 50,000 because his proposal left out the 5,000 specifically assigned to applicants under the 1997 Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act (NACARA). Bernie voted for the Goodlatte Amendment to eliminate the diversity visa lottery (DVL). Bernie was in the Senate in the Fall of 2012 when the House of Representatives voted in favour of Texan Republican Rep. Lamar Smith’s STEM Bill to replace the DVL with openings for 55,000 highly educated workers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Why did Bernie want to eliminate this category, a political position so much in concert with Republican proposed changes to immigration? The reasons for opposing DVL include its susceptibility to fraud since applications are free and take place via internet; intermediaries can file applications on behalf of others and then collect money if that applicant is selected. Secondly, many more places are needed for the highly educated and skilled. Third, since the applicants selected do not receive intelligence checks before they are selected (though they do after), the program is viewed as more open to abuse by potential terrorists. It is not, but in 2002, the wife of an Egyptian terrorist got her visa through the DVL; her husband shot and killed two people in the LA airport.

As far as I can tell, none of these three reasons motivated Bernie to oppose DVL. In any case, the Government Accountability Office in 2007 concluded that it “found no documented evidence that DVL immigrants from these, or other, countries posed a terrorist or other threat.” However, the DVL program was designed to offer access for those people with lesser skills who were also needed to fulfill certain jobs in America. Bernie thought those jobs should be offered to Americans. Bernie also offered a fifth reason; DVL was inherently discriminatory since it was not based on favouring groups discriminated against, but on countries with low demand for immigration vises.

Bernie’s position on immigration is inconsistent. On the one hand he argues against the immigration of low-skilled workers to protect American jobs. On the other hand, he supports family reunification programs, amnesties, opposes enhanced deportation programs, insists he would close detention centres, argues for offering illegal aliens driver’s licenses and health care, and votes against bills to enhance security on the Mexican border. On the one hand, he has argued that Latin American children who sneak into the U.S. should not be “sent back.” He has insisted that, “America has always been a haven for the oppressed. Is there any group more vulnerable than children? We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.”

Are all irregular migrants refugees? Bernie has a bleeding heart, but not the acute rational skills to deal with inconsistencies. And he is often confused in areas which he should have mastered. In January 2016, Bernie sent a letter to President Obama asking that he end the deportation raids. Illegal aliens should be offered temporary protected status permitting them to work in the U.S. Why temporary “protected” status, a refugee category? “It is critical to acknowledge that most of this [sic] families are refugees seeking asylum and entitled to humanitarian protection and legal counsel,” Most are not refugees according to Bernie. There is no evidence that they are.

In 2013, Cuba (22 percent) was the largest source country for refugee and asylee conversions to green cards. Of 75,000 (not ten million) people who arrive in America and claim refugee status on average each year, about 60% succeed, though in some years, the numbers jump considerably and the average is about 60,000. In contrast, Canada will bring in about 50,000 Syrian refugees alone for resettlement, and the number of successful asylum claims will be about 12,000, 20% rather than the proportionate 10% of the American total. America is no longer the major refugee receiving country it once was.  Last year, the U.S. took in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees.

At the time of the ISIS attack in Paris in November of 2015 when the Liberals replaced the Conservative Party as the governing political group in Canada and the previous miserly approach to refugees was set aside, American jurisdictions, dominated by Republicans, increased the obstacles to the arrival of Syrian refugees whether in Congress or half the Governors who were Republicans. They argued that Syrian refugees pose too great a risk to national security. Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey and then still a candidate to be the Republican flag carrier in the presidential elections, vowed that his state would not take in any refugees – “not even orphans under the age of five”. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal directed the state police to “track” Syrian refugees in his state. Although Obama vowed to veto any anti-Syrian refugee legislation and condemned the anti-refugee hysteria, he did not offer a significant number of resettlement slots for Syrian refugees.

Hillary Clinton endorsed taking in Syrian refugees and argued that we cannot allow “terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations.” She stressed the need for careful vetting and the need to be vigilant in screening refugees from Syria. Bernie Sanders concurred, but went further and joined Obama in denouncing the demagoguery and fear-mongering and supported his plan to increase the Syrian refugee intake to 10,000. But Hillary went further still and proposed resettling 65,000 instead of just 10,000 Syrian refugees. This past weekend, when Pope Francis visited Lesbos and personally sponsored three Syrian refugee families, and when Bernie paid his visit to Pope Francis, Bernie said nothing about the Syrian refugees that I could find in any reports. When I listened to the number of interviews in which Bernie answered questions about refugees, he tended to use the crisis to prove he was correct on his opposition to the Iraq War, to stress the need to increase humanitarian aid, to berate the Gulf states for their failure to step up to the plate, denounced bigotry, but has not proposed increasing the refugee intake beyond 10,000. On this point he has been consistent with being an economic nationalist on immigration.

The big issue in the United States, however, has been the large number of undocumented migrants living in the United States estimated to be ten million. Both Hillary and Bernie would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in America and stop deportation of those without criminal records. Both would eliminate most detention centres. Both would make medical insurance available to the undocumented through the Affordable Care Act.

However, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the ardent pro-life Sen. Ted Cruz supporter, said in reference to Bernie Sanders that, “part of his immigration policy is something that I agree with” though, as a climate change denier and on other issues, he is totally at odds with Bernie. Bernie has argued that guest workers in the United States depress wages and take jobs that Americans would take if the wages were higher. The issue is not Bernie’s support for undocumented workers in divided families, but his ability to square the circle. On the one hand, he opposed the comprehensive immigration reform act of 2007 because, as part of the bill, 200,000 guest workers would be permitted to stay for two years on temporary visas. On the other hand, anti-immigration groups give him and F on immigration policy.

Can his various positions be reconciled? Let’s try. Raise the minimum wage to $15 making guest workers unnecessary. Treat with compassion those who are already here. Exclude new guest workers and undocumented migrants. Welcome refugees, but not too many lest that lead to lower pay to American workers. The only problem is that no perfect immigration policy is possible. Our explorations in Canada concluded, much to our surprise because we opposed guest worker programs, was that without guest workers, even if the minimum wage is increased significantly, and it is already significantly higher in Canada than in the U.S., some businesses could not survive without guest workers. We proposed replacing guest workers with refugees since, other than seasonal workers, entrants into regular employment in Canada should also be on a path to citizenship. Though clearly a humanitarian, Bernie has come nowhere near to offering such an innovative program. His main concern is American workers, not refugee protection.

If you oppose guest workers on grounds of increased competition for Canadian workers, then it follows you should oppose refugees. Bernie does not. Further, Bernie stands strongly for family reunification, but almost all studies show that if you enhance family reunification immigration programs, you either cut into current immigration allocations for economically needed immigrants, or, alternatively, you put pressure on increasing the totals permitted to enter which in turn creates even larger pressures for family reunification. Bernie’s votes on immigration are idiosyncratic as indicated by his 2005 support for an amendment to immigration law eliminating the availability of 50,000 permanent resident visas annually for people from countries with low immigration to the United States discussed above.

The reality is that there are irresolvable tensions among different magnets – the desire for needed guest workers, for immigrants with needed skills, for investor immigrants all in tension with the desire for family reunification and the need to enhance resettlement of refugees for humanitarian reasons. So, on immigration policy, you do not aspire to achieve an ideal policy since none is possible. You instead need a policy based on a number of compromises and attempts at reconciliation. Satisfying all demands, and they are legitimate, is impossible. So legislation must seek to forge a compromise quite apart from the troglodytes who populate the American Congress. Bernie’s problem is not that he is not for all the right things, but that he focuses on one issue without acknowledging the necessity of reasonable compromise. Sanders did ultimately vote for the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation while still opposing guest worker programs for low-skilled workers, claiming this as a major reason for keeping workers’ wages depressed. But would he admit that the entry of refugees could create the same pressures?

My problem with Bernie is not his heart but the inconsistencies in his mind and that his economic nationalism trumps enlightened refugee resettlement policies. He is very gutsy rhetorically, but the rhetoric is not backed by practical action when it comes to refugees, among other issues.


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