interesting times

The Democratic Candidates Are in a Bubble on Immigration

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There is now a photograph that sums up everything wrong about America’s broken and overwhelmed immigration system. You’ve seen it, and it is hard to let it leave the mind or the conscience. Together with the accounts of horrifying abuse of children in detention — and “abuse” is not hyperbole — we can see the crisis as it is. We can no longer look away.

The starkness of the crisis is a good thing, though. Until now, many have denied that any crisis existed at all. They have, in fact, denied that the highest levels of mass immigration since the Bush years are an issue at all. As Byron York has noted, Speaker Pelosi called the arrival of close to a million asylum seekers “a fake crisis”; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that hundreds of thousands of men, women, and many children, overwhelming any attempt to process them with the current resources, was “a crisis that does not exist.” This included many Never-Trumpers, like Bill Kristol (“a fake crisis”), and Max Boot (“a faux crisis”). The editors of the Washington Post denied the facts reported by their own Nick Miroff, claiming it was “a make-believe crisis.”

None of these people will admit they were gravely mistaken, or that their denial and delay in acting clearly exacerbated the situation. But now that we’re on the same page, the question is: Where do we go with this now?

Yesterday was a sign of real bipartisan progress. The House passed a Senate bill to spend $4.6 billion to relieve the humanitarian crisis and tackle some of the structural inadequacies of the current failed system. The left wing of the Democratic caucus wanted to insist on various restrictions on the use of the $4.6 billion, primarily to ensure that none of it is earmarked (God forbid) for enforcement of the law. The problem with waging a longer fight would be that Congress would break for its July 4 recess having done nothing to help. Pelosi put children before politics, and it’s hard not to admire her humane pragmatism.

So it’s a start. What’s next? The good news is that the Democrats are finally beginning to announce policy plans that offer some solid ideas. A new bill for an overhaul of the entire system called the Northern Triangle and Border Stabilization Act has been introduced in the House. It proposes increased U.S. aid to Central American countries, to tackle the problem at its roots; a big investment in border facilities to ensure far more humane treatment of asylum seekers; a much stricter monitoring system to keep track of them after processing to make sure they turn up for their court hearings; many more immigration judges to reduce the massive backlog of cases; and it allows for asylum claims to be made in home countries, rather than at the border.

These are all good ideas and certainly worth trying. But what they don’t address is the larger problem of how to reduce levels of mass immigration. The Democrats want to raise the cap on refugees from Central America to 100,000 a year and propose no tightening of asylum law. But it’s the asylum law that needs to change. Since 2014, there has been a 240 percent increase in asylum cases. As Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, the number of asylum cases from Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela has soared at the same time as the crime rate in those countries was being cut in half.

Take the tragic tale of Oscar Ramirez and his young daughter Valeria, the father and daughter captured in death in that heartbreaking photograph. Ramirez’s widow explained to the Washington Post why her husband wanted to move to America: He wanted “a better future for their girl.” This is an admirable goal, but it is classic economic immigration, and it would appear, based on what we know, that it has absolutely nothing to do with asylum. Here again is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services definition: “Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

But somehow the courts have decided that you qualify for asylum if there is simply widespread crime or violence where you live, and Ramirez was also going to use that argument as well. A government need not persecute you; you just have to experience an unsafe environment that your government is failing to suppress. This so expands the idea of asylum, in my view, as to render it meaningless.

Courts have also expanded asylum to include domestic violence, determining that women in abusive relationships are a “particular social group” and thereby qualify. In other words, every woman on the planet who has experienced domestic abuse can now come to America and claim asylum. Also everyone on the planet who doesn’t live in a stable, orderly, low-crime society. Literally billions of human beings now have the right to asylum in America. As climate change worsens, more will rush to claim it. All they have to do is show up.

Last month alone, 144,000 people were detained at the border making an asylum claim. This year, about a million Central Americans will have relocated to the U.S. on those grounds. To add to this, a big majority of the candidates in the Democratic debates also want to remove the grounds for detention at all, by repealing the 1929 law that made illegal entry a criminal offense and turning it into a civil one. And almost all of them said that if illegal immigrants do not commit a crime once they’re in the U.S., they should be allowed to become citizens.

How, I ask, is that not practically open borders? The answer I usually get is that all these millions will have to, at some point, go to court hearings and have their asylum cases adjudicated. The trouble with that argument is that only 44 percent actually turn up for their hearings; and those who do show up and whose claims nonetheless fail can simply walk out of the court and know they probably won’t be deported in the foreseeable future.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement forcibly removed 256,086 people in 2018, 57 percent of whom had committed crimes since they arrived in the U.S. So that’s an annual removal rate of 2 percent of the total undocumented population of around 12 million. That means that for 98 percent of undocumented aliens, in any given year, no consequences will follow for crossing the border without papers. At the debates this week, many Democratic candidates argued that the 43 percent of deportees who had no criminal record in America should not have been expelled at all and been put instead on a path to citizenship. So that would reduce the annual removal rate of illegal immigrants to a little more than 1 percent per year. In terms of enforcement of the immigration laws, this is a joke. It renders the distinction between a citizen and a noncitizen close to meaningless.

None of this reality was allowed to intervene in the Democratic debates this week. At one point, one moderator tellingly spoke about Obama’s record of deporting ” 3 million Americans.” In that bubble, there were no negatives to mass immigration at all, and no concern for existing American citizens’ interests in not having their wages suppressed through this competition. There was no concession that child separation and “metering” at the border to slow the crush were both innovated by Obama, trying to manage an overwhelmed system. Candidates vied with each other to speak in Spanish. Every single one proposed amnesty for all those currently undocumented in the U.S., except for criminals. Every single one opposes a wall. There was unanimous support for providing undocumented immigrants immediately with free health care. There was no admission that Congress needed to tighten asylum law. There was no concern that the Flores decision had massively incentivized bringing children to game the system, leaving so many vulnerable to untold horrors on a journey no child should ever be forced to make.

What emerged was their core message to the world: Get here without papers and you’ll receive humane treatment while you’re processed, you’ll never be detained, you’ll get work permits immediately, and you’ll have access to publicly funded health care and a path to citizenship if you don’t commit a crime. This amounts to an open invitation to anyone on the planet to just show up and cross the border. The worst that can happen is you get denied asylum by a judge, in which case you can just disappear and there’s a 1 percent chance that you’ll be caught in a given year. Who wouldn’t take those odds?

This is in a new century when the U.S. is trying to absorb the largest wave of new immigrants in our entire history, and when the percentage of the population that is foreign-born is also near a historic peak. It is also a time when mass immigration from the developing world has destabilized liberal democracies across the West, is bringing illiberal, anti-immigration regimes to power across Europe, and was the single biggest reason why Donald Trump is president.

I’m told that, as a legal immigrant, I’m shutting the door behind me now that I’ve finally made it to citizenship. I’m not. I favor solid continuing legal immigration, but also a reduction in numbers and a new focus on skills in an economy where unskilled labor is increasingly a path to nowhere. It is not strange that legal immigrants — who have often spent years and thousands of dollars to play by the rules — might be opposed to others’ jumping the line. It is not strange that a hefty proportion of Latino legal immigrants oppose illegal immigration — they are often the most directly affected by new, illegal competition, which drives down their wages.

I’m told that I’m a white supremacist for believing in borders, nation-states, and a reduction in legal immigration to slow the pace of this country’s demographic revolution. But I support this because I want a more successful integration and Americanization of immigrants, a better future for skilled immigrants, and I want to weaken the populist and indeed racist movements that have taken the West by storm in the past few years. It’s because I loathe white supremacy that I favor moderation in this area.

When I’m told only white racists favor restrictionism, I note how the Mexican people are more opposed to illegal immigration than Americans: In a new poll, 61.5 percent of Mexicans oppose the entry of undocumented migrants, period; 44 percent believe that Mexico should remove any undocumented alien immediately. Are Mexicans now white supremacists too? That hostility to illegal immigration may even explain why Trump’s threat to put tariffs on Mexico if it didn’t crack down may well have worked. Since Trump’s bluster, the numbers have measurably declined — and the crackdown is popular in Mexico. I can also note that most countries outside Western Europe have strict immigration control and feel no need to apologize for it. Are the Japanese and Chinese “white supremacists”? Please. Do they want to sustain their own culture and national identity? Sure. Is that now the equivalent of the KKK?

The Democrats’ good ideas need to be put in contact with this bigger question if they are to win wider support. In the U.S. in the 21st century, should anyone who enters without papers and doesn’t commit a crime be given a path to citizenship? Should all adversely affected by climate change be offered a path to citizenship if they make it to the border? Should every human living in violent, crime-ridden neighborhoods or countries be granted asylum in America? Is there any limiting principle at all?

I suspect that the Democrats’ new position — everyone in the world can become an American if they walk over the border and never commit a crime — is political suicide. I think the courts’ expansion of the meaning of asylum would strike most Americans as excessively broad. I think many Americans will have watched these debates on immigration and concluded that the Democrats want more immigration, not less, that they support an effective amnesty of 12 million undocumented aliens as part of loosening border enforcement and weakening criteria for citizenship. And the viewers will have realized that their simple beliefs that borders should be enforced and that immigration needs to slow down a bit are viewed by Democrats as unthinkable bigotry.

Advantage Trump.

The Gender-Theory Backlash

I wondered when this would happen. How long would it take, I asked, before a younger generation revolted against the new left orthodoxy that there is no sex binary, or gender binary, or indeed any place for biology in understanding the differences between men and women? How long before boys rebelled against the notion that their sex is actively toxic and in need of psychotherapy? Or how long before girls felt violated or just uncomfortable seeing people of the opposite biological sex in their bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers? How many are miffed that they have to compete with biological males in athletic contests?

New data suggests that that time could be now. For the first time, we’re seeing a sharp drop in tolerance of “LGBTQ” people among the younger generation. This is an entirely new phenomenon. It used to be the young that spearheaded toleration and inclusion. Now they’re suddenly bolting in the opposite direction: “The number of Americans 18 to 34 who are comfortable interacting with LGBTQ people slipped from 53 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2018 — the only age group to show a decline,” according to the annual [GLAAD] Accelerating Acceptance report. And that is down from 63 percent in 2016. (Perhaps they should rename the report Decelerating Acceptance.) “36 percent of young people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member was LGBTQ in 2018, compared with 29 percent in 2017, and 24 percent in 2016. 34 percent were uncomfortable learning their doctor was LGBTQ vs. 27 percent a year earlier. 39 percent were uncomfortable learning their child had a school lesson on LGBTQ history vs. 30 percent in 2017.”

Or check this out: 62 percent of young men regarded themselves as “allies” of LGBTQ people in 2016; only 35 percent now say the same — a near-halving of support. Women “allies” have dropped from 65 to 52 percent. The turn began in the year that the Obama administration — with no public discussion or congressional support — imposed critical gender theory on America’s high schools, determining sex to be whatever a student says it is. The imposition of trans ideology by fiat on the entire country’s young — along with severe public stigma for those with even the slightest questions — was almost textbook left authoritarianism. Well meant, perhaps. But dictatorial.

Even GLAAD, the culture police for the gay left, concedes that the transformation of the gay-rights movement into a trans movement steeped in critical gender theory in the past few years is likely the reason: “The younger generation was coming in contact with more LBGTQ people, particularly individuals who are non-binary and don’t identify simply as lesbian or gay.” GLAAD of course blames Trump, and social media, and vows to crack down ever more firmly on those who aren’t fully onboard with its agenda. The last thing GLAAD would do is ask itself if it is actually exacerbating the problem, and that the redefinition of almost everyone’s sex and gender to accommodate less than 1 percent of the population is why this resistance is happening.

Take a look at this video of a young student in Britain refusing to concede that there are more than two genders. The kid had been thrown out of class for stating his opinion. He is told he has to keep his opinion in his own home and to obey the school’s authority policy. Now imagine those who agree with the student that there are not 54 genders and never say it. Kids are not stupid. They know they are being propagandized. This poll suggests the backlash has arrived, and it will likely grow.

It’s happening among young straight women especially, women who were once bedrock supporters of gay rights: “Driving the dilution of acceptance are young women whose overall comfort levels plunged from 64 percent in 2017 to 52 percent in 2018.” Hmmm. Why do you think that could be? Did Trump do this all on his own? Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the increasing presence of biological males in their sports, restrooms, locker rooms, and other traditionally all-female spaces. Maybe it is being told that your biological sex is meaningless, that someone with a dick is no less a woman than you are, and that boys can have periods too. As for young men, they are becoming aware of how the feminist left regards them.

Of course, we could find out more with a more carefully parsed survey. We could, for example, end the claptrap that dictates an “LGBTQ” identity and start referring to reality again. We could ask separate polling questions about feelings about gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. We could ask about gay rights and about trans rights separately — because they are very, very different experiences. That way, we could better understand what’s going on.

All of this is a disservice to transgender people, most of whom are very invested in the sexual and gender binary, not in hock to postmodern jargon, and who could simply make the argument that their brains appear to be of one gender and the rest of their bodies the other — and that they’d like to be treated with dignity and respect. Instead of demanding a redefining of everyone’s sex and gender following critical queer theory, what if activists simply asked for equal treatment for transgender people? I think that’s a persuasive argument, I passionately support it, and it would win if accompanied by the voices of trans people who are not on the extreme left and who can tell their stories and bring others along in a slow but durable and human way. That’s how we won marriage — by telling our stories, talking about what we all have in common, and insisting that including gay people in civil marriage would not affect straight marriage in any way.

Of course, there is almost no chance that the gay-rights Establishment will relinquish the “LGBTQ” label. They, like most extensions of the Democratic Party, have completely embraced postmodern critical gender and queer theory. My fear is that this will fail to win support and that, as the trans movement keeps pressing and pressing, the backlash will grow and gays and lesbians will become collateral damage. The T activists, having embraced an extremist theory of gender, could undermine not just their own case but also equality for the Ls, Gs, and Bs. They could swiftly reverse the gains we have won. They sure have made a good start in turning the next generation against us.

Life After Canceling

What does life look like after you’ve been canceled? You do your best to get on with your life, I guess. Maybe that means finding some other way to make a living, against a constant tide of contempt or disgust or social-media harassment. Or maybe it means inching back slowly into your old identity … and getting an uproarious standing ovation for which your hosts subsequently must apologize.

In Christianity, the rules are much kinder. The exposed sinner — even someone who commits a mortal sin — has an instant chance of redemption. You repent and ask God for forgiveness. Absolution follows. And if you start over, it is actually incumbent on other Christians to help you succeed again. They switch immediately from condemnation to support. The same in recovery. All you have to do is own your addiction and helplessness, make amends, start over day by day — and you will be encouraged, supported, cheered on by your fellows.

In the Woke Era, the cancellation process is far more brutal. An abject apology from the sinner is required — but just as a starter. If the apology is not a form of complete and utter self-flagellation, or fails to meet the standards of woke orthodoxy, you’ll still get canceled. And if you’re canceled for your unwoke opinion or a stupid, impulsive tweet, you’re permanently canceled.

And at that point, you will have absolutely no support from your peers, whatever you do. Any attempt to revive a career will be immediately suppressed. Whatever you once said clumsily or foolishly will never be forgotten. Any sign of social or career reemergence will mean another recitation of your sins, which, thanks to the permanence of the web, will go on forever like some Gregorian chant. It may even be that future woke culture will make your sin look even worse, and therefore even less forgivable.

This is a form of death imposed on human beings, a life sentence of obloquy. And, in McSweeney’s this week, someone actually found a genius way to describe it in the form of obituaries. To wit:

Nicholas and Louisa Solinas, 47 and 29 respectively, were newlyweds honeymooning in Mykonos when they were canceled for a tasteless Instagram caption. Mr. Solinas worked in private equity; Mrs. Solinas was an interior designer/model/DJ. Family members, though heartbroken, acknowledge it is miraculous that the couple had not been canceled sooner.

Better still:

Simon Mulchfield, 27, was a rising journalist at The Atlantic. On Saturday he canceled himself at his parents’ Westchester home, after re-reading an essay he wrote in his freshman year of college about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Mulchfield leaves behind his uncanceled fiancé, Shayna Al-Ahmadi, who is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic and whose undergraduate essays have been read before Congress. Ms. Al-Ahmadi remains grateful for their time together and notes that if Mr. Mulchfield had not canceled himself, she absolutely would have done so.

My favorite though:

On Wednesday, three-day-old Lily Hobbes became the youngest person ever to be canceled, when her father read to her from Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming and she immediately started crying.

Read the whole thing, as we bloggers used to say. I really wonder if we are on the verge of a new orthodoxy in which cancellation will forever be a brutal weapon to enforce woke behavior and discourse. Or whether, in a few years from now, we will look upon this era of woke leftism as one of those moral-panic outbreaks that temporarily make people completely mad.

I guess, while we are in this era, we can resist its censorious mob rule by simple things. We can forgive those who have been canceled, and show mercy to the unwoke, and buy them a drink, and do whatever we can, in our small ways, to bring the dead back to life.

See you next Friday.

Andrew Sullivan: Democrats Are in a Bubble on Immigration