A Leadership of Extremes

William Galston talks about immigration reform in his Wall Street Journal column:

Let’s start with what most Americans don’t want. Last month’s Harvard-Harris poll shows they don’t want to break up families, and they don’t want to break up Immigration and Customs Enforcement either. They oppose open borders—and closed borders. They reject sanctuary cities—and a wall along the Mexican border. They don’t believe legal immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans or that they are more likely to commit crimes.

And most Americans don’t support reducing the level of legal immigration. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans favoring such reductions has fallen since 2001 from 53% to 24%, while the share saying immigration should increase tripled from 10% to 32%. In fact, 2018 is the first time in the 21st century that more Americans have supported increasing rather than cutting legal immigration flows.

Despite deep partisan differences on immigration, a desire for increased legal immigration is evident across party lines. Since 2001, the share of Republicans who favor lower levels of legal immigration has fallen from 43% to 33%, while the share favoring an increase has risen from 15% to 22%. A plurality of Republicans—39%—favor the status quo, exactly matching the share of Democrats with this view.

Large majorities of Americans agree, moreover, on the kind of immigration reform they want. To begin, they overwhelmingly favor a generous resolution of the “Dreamer” conundrum: Young adults brought to this country illegally as children should be allowed to remain, work and embark on a path to citizenship if they avoid committing crimes. Support for this policy includes 80% of independents, 61% of Republicans and 69% of working-class white voters. In the face of such broad-based support, the inability of Congress to get this done is stunning. Clear presidential leadership certainly would have helped.

This public consensus extends beyond single issues. Harvard-Harris found 73% of Americans favor “comprehensive immigration reform.” This is more than an empty or ambiguous slogan. A large majority agree on tighter border security and stricter enforcement. But they are under no illusions that border security is sufficient. When asked to choose the best way to deter illegal immigration, more Americans cite verification of legal status at the workplace than any other option. While they prefer to detain illegal immigrants rather than revert to the policy known as “catch and release,” they also reject extended periods of detention. And though they reject using cities as havens from federal law, they favor keeping America a haven for those fleeing persecution in their home countries.

You may notice that the positions I’ve articulated around here are pretty close to the “large majority” position of Americans. Why then is it the Republican and Democratic leadership is so extreme in their views and out of step with that “large majority”?

In preemptive response to the retorts I presume are coming, the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy is obviously pretty extreme while both the chairman of the DNC and the deputy chairman of the DNC have spoken out in favor of open borders. Those are both extreme positions out of step with the views of most Americans.

The question remains why? I think it’s that the political leadership is in open rebellion against most Americans and are doing the bidding of a relatively small number of ardent supporters.

1 comment… add one
  • Andy

    To me it’s obviously because the parties represent minority interests and the slice of Americans they actually represent is continuously growing smaller. But, they operate in concert like a cartel so they don’t feel any pressure to internally reform and they actively oppose any external reform.

    I don’t know where this ends but I personally hope they both collapse and get replaced by something else.

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