Why Is the Ugly American, Ugly?

It’s been interesting hearing the debate concerning immigration, especially the latest controversy involving children.  The Republican answer time and again has been basically to send the kids back immediately.  I can understand not just making everyone a citizen upon entry.  But find the fervor from conservatives rather chilling.  Instead of trying to find out if their claim was legit, there seems to be this drive among conservatives to just get rid of the kids.  Damn any hearing to find out if they are true refugees.

Damon Linker thinks the GOP has become more tribal, afraid of anyone that is different.  Linker goes as far as to accuse the GOP of only favoring Caucasians and no one else.

I don’t disagree with Linker’s anaylsis.  But this brings up a question: why is the GOP so unbending on this issue- to the point of closing our doors to children?

I know there are those who will say that this is proof that Republicans are racist losers.  I don’t think that’s true, or at least that wasn’t always the case.  In the 1980s Ronald Reagan led a celebration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  He pushed for reforms with immigration and he got his way with a number of Republicans.  Even George W. Bush wanted to reach out to Latinos and was moderately successful.

So, what has changed?  Why is the party so skittish on immigration; a party that used to welcome immigrants has become so cold towards “the other?” What made former Iowa Republican Governor Bob Ray accept immigrants from Southeast Asia (yes they did come here legally) and the current Republican Iowa Governor Terry Branstad less welcoming?

The reason I’m not immediately jumping to racism is twofold.  First, I lean conservative and I’ve met fellow conservatives that are welcoming of people from various backgrounds.  Second, I think it’s lazy analysis- it’s the way people who don’t like conservatives or Republicans can wrap this all up in a bow.  It also ignores examples of Republicans being inclusive.

My own guess is that the anger and xenophobia we are seeing is an example of “Archie Bunker’s Revenge.”

Let me explain.  Archie Bunker is the central character in the 70s sitcom “All in the Family.”  Archie would be considered a racist today with an unhealthy touch of sexism.  He’s a working class person that is bewildered by the rapid change taking place in his society.  Archie is more than just a bigoted white person; he’s someone that cares for his family and is trying,  mostly through stumbling.

While the GOP is thought of as the party of the rich, the reality is far more murky.  Whenever I’ve gone to a GOP party caucus, it’s interesting to note who is there.  Forty years ago, the Minnesota GOP was the party that Minnesota businessmen and women belonged to.  These days, it’s a little different.  Attending a caucus in Minneapolis finds that most of the active members are not rich.  Most are pretty common  folk- mostly white and working class.  If I were to go to a Democratic Party caucus the room would be made up of upper middle class people- in some cases they very people who 40 years earlier would have been Republicans. The GOP is becoming a whiter party, but I don’t think it’s the party of the well-to-do anymore.

The Archie Bunkers of the world are the white working class.  They are seen their incomes stagnate if not fall.  My guess is that these people feel squeezed in every way.  Could it be that when the American Dream seems a long way off, that you might be tempted to “circle the wagons?”

If the problem here is partly economic, then the solution is to make that segment of American society feel more secure.  Maybe enacting some kind of widespread reform that allows the working class of all colors to feel more secure economically.

This is where I both agree and disagree with Reform Conservatives like Ross Douthat.  He is right that the party has to focus on the downscale voters of all ethnicities that are feeling pinched.  But I disagree with Douthat in believing we can ignore immigration reform.  Because while I don’t think all the protest on immigration is xenophobic, it is there and it makes conservatives appear that they hate anyone who looks different.  If the GOP of the 1980s was able to welcome immigrants, the 2014 version should as well.

I’m not trying to diminish the specter of bigotry here.  It does exist.  But sometimes that bigotry is the result of some change, and it would be wise for us to find that out in order to help solve this issue.


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90 thoughts on “Why Is the Ugly American, Ugly?

  1. This doesn’t speak to the immigration question, but I don’t think I agree with you about class and partisanship. Arguably both parties are “the party of the rich,” but that descriptor is much more accurate for the GOP than for the Democrats. Columbia statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman has done extensive research on the empirical question, and reliably found that the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican. His most recent paper (which is quite short, and basically just a quick analysis of the 2012 election results in light of his prior work) can be found here if you’re interested.


  2. Dennis, what do you say to the statistics which show that the majority of working-class people have invariably voted Democratic in recent years? I just ran across this on the The Atlantic a few minutes ago: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/the-one-number-that-will-decide-this-years-election/374979/

    There’s also a Columbia University paper on income inequality and partisan voting which observes, “We begin with a key descriptive fact: there are sharp differences in partisan voting by income. In national elections, richer individuals are more likely to vote Republican. This difference has persisted with few exceptions since the New Deal era.” More specifically, “In poor states such as Mississippi, richer people are much more likely than poor people to vote Republican, whereas in rich states such as Connecticut, there is very little difference in vote choice between the rich and the poor. This trend has gradually developed since the early 1990s and has reached full flower in the elections of 2000 and beyond.” The authors suggest a possible reason is that, “One key difference between red and blue America is in the relation between income and social attitudes. In Republican states, rich and poor have similar views on social issues, but in Democratic states, the rich are quite a bit more socially liberal than the poor.” They also look at the 2008 election in depth and find that there is a linear trend – the higher someone’s income, the more likely they were to vote for John McCain – and this remains true when you disaggregate for race.


    In 2008, of people making under $50,000 (i.e.: the lower-income half of Americans), 60% voted for Obama and 38% for Romney.

    A chart near the bottom of the study by Pew Research looks at party identification (2000-2009) and similarly finds that lower-income people are much more likely to be Democratic, and higher-income people are much more likely to be Republican. As of 2009, the figures were (leaving out figures for independents):

    Lowest income quintile: 42% Democratic, 15% Republican
    Lower-middle income quintile: 40% Democratic, 16% Republican
    Middle income quintile: 34% Democratic, 25% Republican
    Upper-middle income quintile: 30% Democratic, 30% Republican
    Top income quintile: 32% Republican, 30% Democratic

    That was a particularly strong year for Democrats in terms of party identification, but even in years where the Republicans were strong (e.g., 2004), the rich were more likely to be Republicans and lower- and lower-middle-income people were more likely to be Democrats, by a large margin.


    So I think the basic premise of your article – that Republicans have more lower-income/working-class supporters than the Democrats, and these people feel squeezed and thus react against immigration – doesn’t fit, because the first half of that premise is factually incorrect.


    • that Republicans have more lower-income/working-class supporters than the Democrats

      The statistics you cite aren’t broken down by race or age.

      I don’t think poor black people are going to be Republicans because of immigration.


      • Figure A2 in the Columbia U paper (pg. 1215) breaks down the statistics by race. Low-income white people are still more likely to vote Democratic than upper-income white people. And wealthy black people are more likely to vote Republican than lower-income black people.


    • In 2012 it tracked with income pretty significantly. Interestingly, in 2008 that wasn’t the case. Obama won the highest group exit polled. McCain peaked among $100-150k. Notably, the 2012 exit polls didn’t differentiate above $100k, so we don’t know who did how well among the subgroups of the wealthy.

      One of the interesting aspects of our electorate is that wealthy individuals tend Republican, while wealthy places tend Democratic. So we often get commentary about how Republicans are a bunch of freeloaders and Democrats are carrying the national weight. Or looking at statewide voting data and demographic markers and using that to make implications on “Republican” and “Democratic” social and economic statistics.


      • That’s not a very significant stat, though, because the very rich aren’t a particularly large segment of the electorate numerically (they’re certainly significant in terms of ability to use wealth to influence elections). Overwhelmingly, lower-income people vote Democratic and upper-income people vote Republican – so the argument that Republicans are hostile to immigration due to working-class economic insecurity falls apart.


      • so the argument that Republicans are hostile to immigration due to working-class economic insecurity falls apart.

        Not necessarily. A lot of lower-income folks do vote Republican, even if not as much as vote the other way. The dataset presented by Gelman only tells us how they vote and not why they vote that way or how they feel about immigration in particular. For example, working class individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of immigration on both sides of the aisle, it’s just that Republican ones vote that way because of that and Democratic ones vote that way despite that.

        To get to the nub of this, you’d want to parse:
        (1) How do lower-income Republican voters feel about immigration compared to higher-income ones.
        (2) Same for Democrats.
        (3) Broken down by race, how do upper-income voters generally feel about immigration compared to lower-income voters.

        There are more, I’m sure, but I can say that it has been my experience in Republican circles that working class Republican voters are considerably more hostile to immigration than upper class voters. Which, in the context of this conversation, seems significant. (Could be my experience is skewed. Which is why we need data.)


      • In addition, other data for 2008 shows people in the top income levels (over $100,000/yr) overwhelmingly identifying as Republicans. Scroll to the chart at the bottom:

        That coincides cleanly with my comment that “McCain peaked among $100-150k.”

        Most of my initial comment was directed at the supposition that the wealthier you are the more likely you are to vote Republican. Not that the supposition is false, but that it does seem to become less true above a certain income level. (Just as “More educated voters tend to vote Republican” is true up until the education level where it’s not.)


      • For example, working class individuals may be more sensitive to the effects of immigration on both sides of the aisle, it’s just that Republican ones vote that way because of that and Democratic ones vote that way despite that.

        The above data show that the Democratic Party has a substantially larger proportion of working-class supporters than the Republican Party. Therefore, if opposition to immigration is stronger among the working classes than the upper classes, then we should expect the Democrats to be more hostile to immigration than the Republicans. In fact, the opposite is true.

        It could be true that working-class voters are, all else equal, more opposed to immigration than upper-class voters. But since most working-class voters are Democrats, if that theory were true then “being Republican” would have to be even more strongly associated with anti-immigration sentiment that being working-class was. The theory still wouldn’t explain Dennis’ central question of why the Republican Party is so virulent and hateful in its opposition to immigration.

        It would be like trying to explain the parties’ respective stances on same-sex marriage by saying that black people are more opposed to same-sex marriage than white people. Since black people mainly vote for Democrats and the Democrats support same-sex marriage while Republicans oppose it, the theory is in direct contradiction to the point you’re trying to make.

        Working-class support for the Democrats isn’t as overwhelming as African-American support for the Democrats, but it’s the same idea.


      • The theory is not entirely disproven by the fact that more working class people support democrats. If we think about in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, opposition to immigration would be something that at least one of the factions in the republican party would have to support in order for it to be a plank in its platform. If we look at the three factions of the republican party, the business wing would like immigration, the neocons are indifferent and the social cons are the ones who are in favour of border control. It seems that the social cons are the ones who will tend to be indifferent about economic policy and are kept within the party by appealing to their social views.

        People from that same demographic (i.e. people who are closer to the democrats on economic policy but closer to the republicans on social policy) who vote for the democrats vote with the democrats because of democrat’s economic policy. That is to say, some significant fraction of working class voters care more about social policy than economic policy, while a larger fraction care more about economic policy than social policy. Democrats could pull more white working class voters by modifying their social policy but they would lose the Hispanic and African American vote. That some significant faction of people in a party care about an issue X is not a sufficient condition for that party to include X in its platform. It just so happens that circumstances in the republican party are such that working class preferences on this score manage to dominate the platform. It may be that there are more white working class voters in the democratic party, but there are other factors which prevent their social preferences from dominating.


  3. “The Archie Bunkers of the world are the white working class. They are seen their incomes stagnate if not fall. ”

    No, no, NO!
    Archie Bunker has seen unparalleled acceleration of his income and wealth over the past 40 years, to where he is at the apex of human flourishing! He has a cell phone, man…a cell phone, I tell you!

    It is only the constant drumbeat of liberals who cause him to think he is suffering.


    • “Archie Bunker has seen unparalleled acceleration of his income and wealth over the past 40 years,”

      He is probably sitting on prime Queens real estate, owned free and clear, and likely valued 10 times what it was in the 70s.


    • I call absolute BS on any hint of an idea that the Archie Bunkers of the world are who they are because of globalization or immigration or middle class stagnation or any other political boogeyman. No matter how hard Archie has had it, his black/Hispanic/Asian/female/first-or-second generation immigrant counterpart has likely had it worse. And as points out, he has a house (ie accumulated wealth) and other advantages that all those other people do not have.

      The Archie Bunkers of the world are pissed off because they grew up thinking that being born a white American male entitled them to a certain set of privileges, both economic and social, and now all of that is being questioned.

      The whole nostalgia for the post-war America nonsense is where the worst part of left and right populism converge.


  4. 1. There is a long and unfortunate history of anti-immigrant fear mongering in the United States. For all of our poetry on the Golden Door, there is also equally ugly rhetoric and legislation on keeping non-Protestants out. I can’t think of an immigrant group (except maybe the Swedes) who were not the victims of fear mongering. Slate ran an article on this in the last week, each immigrant group brought a different disease and was a threat to public health and morals. The know-nothings, the Asian exclusion act, etc.

    2. I don’t think anyone disagree that much of the GOP’s current populist base works by throwing red meat at the cultural fears and resentments of the white working class. This has been talked about since Nixon developed the Southern Strategy and the Reagan Democrats. It is part of the infamous Hands add, and the idea behind What’s the Matter with Kansas and the entire career of Sarah Palin.

    I also think that you are right that many people who are solid Democratic types today would have been Rockefeller Republicans in the past. I have plenty of friends who feel unwelcome in the GOP because of social issues but are significantly further to the right on me when it comes to economics.


    • I have plenty of friends who feel unwelcome in the GOP because of social issues but are significantly further to the right on me when it comes to economics.

      This seems right. If I were an American citizen, I would be voting either Democrats or Libertarians almost entirely because of social issues and race. This would be the case even though I differ from the democratic consensus on abortion, am certainly to the right of the republicans on economic matters and hold at least some socially conservative personal values.

      The republicans have at the very least an image problem, namely they seem to be the party of bigots. Ultimately, the way the red meat they throw to their base seems so openly bigoted is tremendously off putting.


      • The biggest secret is that many social liberals are incredibly personally conservative and are far from the decadents that the GOP describes. I seem to find plenty of party hard people who are really politically conservative/Republican. Many of my most liberal friends are home-body types.


      • Saul,
        not surprising. I doubt you know many engineers or computer scientists.
        Then again, I hear that any convention brings the crazy partiers — even the ones about apples!


      • I think you’ll find a lot of variation among software types. On the one side you have the party-hard Silicon Valley “brogrammer” types, jackasses one and all. And then you have staid middle-aged Bostonians who once worked for Symbolics (which seems to describe most of my coworkers). And then you have the nose-in-the-books MIT cats, who really are like what you think they are like, except they aren’t as smart as they think they are. And then you have frumpy middle-aged dudes who write software at banks and who don’t actually sniff coke as you would imagine, but are total nerdbros who play MMOs. Then you have the smug rich guys who do porn websites and like to have posh little parties in their posh little houses, until they move to Thailand and marry a fifteen year old (true story). And then you have the guy who figured out enough SQL to get promoted to management, and is actually a pretty boring guy with a boring life in a boring house.

        And then you have me on the dance floor twirling and thinking of math.


      • According to Canadian internet legend James Nicoll, there was a kid’s book from the 1950s that attempted to teach against racism and xenophobia by using Swedes as the feared strange group for some reason.


  5. Archie, in another place and time, would have been a Brownshirt, I suppose. The bullies, the foremen are no longer needed. It is pointless to talk about giving them new jobs, as their jobs are Gone and will continue to be unnecessary so long as we progress. Nobody liked them anyway.

    These are the people who like putting folks in their place…

    That said, the Catholics around here are talking about god’s mission, in terms of getting these kids into homes and out of kennels. Good for them (I rarely praise the Catholic Church).


      • It’s a great read,but he gets one thing wrong.
        The aristocrats, nearly one and all, went Nazi. It was what they were trained to do, after all. Side with the winning team. Oh, they were never the fervent Nazi (hence why they were swept off to America after the war), but Nazi all the same.


      • Wasn’t part of the reason for the aristocrats’ choice that the alternative was the Communists? Similar to Bismarck some 50 years earlier pushing industrialists into social insurance because he was scared of the Socialists?


    • The bullies, the foremen are no longer needed
      My father was a foreman for years, before being promoted into management. Management fought over him during large projects, because he had a reputation of being able to get it done — done on time and done right and done without injury. (Not a small thing, in refineries). And I heard PLENTY from the folks who worked under him, who were happy to see him on the job because it meant things were being done right.

      I got to hear all about his job, growing up. He didn’t plan the jobs. He didn’t hire or fire. He just knew how the job would come together, knew how everyone’s bits fit together, and was able to shuffle people and jobs to minimize idle time. Capable of spotting mistakes, sticky spots, or upcoming problems.

      The funny thing is — that job still exists. In my field, we call it ‘technical lead’ or ‘project lead’. You know, the coder who isn’t management exactly, the guy who knows what’s going on enough to pitch in and do the work, but whose job is really keeping the whole project on keel.


      • I had a neighbor once who did that for a construction company. (I don’t know what his title was.) His job was to drive to a job site, find out what roadblocks (metaphorical ones) the crew there had run into, get them unstuck, and then drive on to the next. He was highly respected and, judging by his house, very well paid.


      • This is precisely what my wife once did at a construction company. Recently she has done the same for a marketing company. I keep wanting her to get into software project management.

        It’s all the same job: make sure the stuff that needs to happen happens.


      • I’ve heard the argument made that one reason for the lack of “good” technical managers in engineering is that a lot of really sharp engineers who have a good notion of the “big picture” see the tech lead job as the plum job and end up there instead of actual management. You get the ability to influence the project and keep things running the way you like to see them run, but you still get to do tech work and you generally get to avoid headaches like budgeting and HR issues. Your manager sees you as irreplaceable, so you usually get a small (but not management level, heaven forbid!) pay bump and you become the power behind the power. The people who end up in “real” management were the often the “big picture” engineers who didn’t have the tech skills to sneak into the sweet tech lead gig.


      • morat20,
        yeah. But that’s not a guy with an authoritarian personality — nor a bully. There used to be a job description for folks who “got people working” via bullying and harassment.


      • Kim,

        I’m just pointing out you’re using a really broad brush. I’ve met people in my job who were utterly incapable of writing code. I don’t go around calling all programmers hacks.

        Foreman’s a REALLY crappy job for a bully, since a lot of places (especially union ones), foreman is an elected position — the people doing the job vote for one of their own to handle the responsibility. The extra money is small, and your face and name are the first thing management sees when something goes pear shaped. It’s not really a job for a bully, nor for a politician type.


      • morat,
        sorry for the calumny. I was just trying to duck folks throwing stuff at me for talking about overseers (which is probably the more appropriate term, even as slavery-evoking as it is).


      • foreman is an elected position — the people doing the job vote for one of their own to handle the responsibility. The extra money is small, and your face and name are the first thing management sees when something goes pear shaped. It’s not really a job for a bully, nor for a politician type.

        A really important point in a lot of roles people need to fill — a leadership role. It’s not about bossing people around. The same qualities needed in a good foreman are needed in a good manager, good church elder, school board member.

        Leadership skills — cooperative leadership instead of competitive leadership — are undervalued. We’re drowning in the horserace of competitive leadership.


  6. When I look at red/blue/purple maps, there’s an obvious correlation between bright red and rural. The voters there have legitimate economic reasons to be scared about the changes that are occurring. I use Colorado for my examples because I know that best. Meat processing plants where the workers were almost exclusively white 40 years ago are now overwhelmingly Hispanic. Providing modern medical care in rural areas has been a growing problem for decades. When the state legislature revamped our telecommunications laws this past session, the rural legislators were crushed that their proposal to keep the existing voice subsidies and add broadband subsidies wasn’t even discussed (what they got was the current voice subsidies could be used for either voice or broadband, but no additional dollars were forthcoming). When the Dept of Corrections was streamlining operations, they closed a small rural prison that was costing a fortune to operate; it was accurately noted at the time that the closure was probably going to be a significant blow to three counties’ economies. When the legislature imposed a modest renewable electricity requirement on rural coops, the universal complaint was “We can’t afford renewable electricity.”

    I’ve got no answers. But I understand why there’s a big chunk of rural population that’s scared, and one of the things they’re scared about is letting any more “brown people” into the country.


      • In the neighborhood I live in now, which is heavily eastern European, there still appears to be immigration, at least from my anecdotal analysis. I don’t know how many enter legally or how many illegally (or enter legally and overstay visas), but I suspect at least some are not here legally. These folks, at least right now, are not the targets of anti-immigration attitudes the way “brown people” are.

        That said, you’re right anyway. There have been times when the targets of anti-immigration were, for example, eastern European and, as Saul says above, non-protestant (although I imagine protestants had trouble from time to time). And if the “white” eastern European immigration were widespread enough and noticeable enough, we might very well see a resurgence.

        I do think that at least when it comes to immigration racism works both as a prior and post facto element. Prior: people who are already racist against, say, “brown people” are more likely to oppose immigration because they see it as largely an issue of “brown people” coming in. Post facto: people see a group coming in, for some reason feel threatened by that group, and then speak of them or view them as a different or quasi-different “race,” which is where we see the frequent references to “whiteness” here and in several threads.


    • Back when I was representing developers in Southern California (THAT career came to an abrupt end in 08), the dirty little secret was the way that developers used a series of contractors to build houses. The master developer’s employee base was accountants, lawyers and purchasing agents. The project developer’s employee base was the same plus contract managers and advertisers. The contract managers dealt with the series of companies that laid the foundation, did the rough carpentry, put on the roof etc. (There could easily be one or two more layers of cut-outs.)

      You’ve heard of project developers: Toll Brothers, K&B, Lennar. You’ve never heard of the company that actually employes the roofers. Those are fly-by-night, undercapitalized companies that open and close on a regular basis. And that’s where the illegal hiring occurs.

      I think immigration is a great idea. I think an immigration system which thrives on the existence of a class of undocumented aliens who are terrified to enforce their employee rights for fear of deportation is abominable. I fully support the obligation of employers, and the companies that they provide services to, needing to establish that all their employees have the right to work legally in the US. The cut-out system of so-called independent contractors is just gross. I’ve been part of it and that’s not something I’m proud of.


      • We don’t have much illegal aliens around here (primarily b/c of weather).
        People love to blame the unions for higher construction costs, but it’s just not so.


  7. I was kind of hoping we would get past the “Republicans are bigots” explaination and think about this more. I don’t deny that is part of the issue, but I don’t think it is all of it and I was hoping people would want to explore that instead of falling back on the same tired reasons.


    • I’m not sure there is that much of a reason though. Lots of Americans have always been afraid of the out groups/outsiders. At this time it is mostly brown skinned people who are the outsiders so they are filling the role. As has been noted plenty of white folks, or at least we call them white now, were the outsiders. Jews have been every bodies easy to hate group for generations, now a good hunk of the Repub’s pretty much swears fealty to Israel. Things change but many people fear outsiders. If you mix is high stress/anxiety times which this is for many people and a dab of pols/media types throwing red meat for ratings i think that covers what is going on. It isn’t that R’s are horrible racists, but that other factors in people who tend conservative are coming out. Mostly fear of change, strong dislike of ambiguity, fear of social disruption and fear of outsiders.


    • I’m willing to walk past that. But foremen are still overseers, and authoritarians are still authoritarians.

      Thing is? walking past that doesn’t get you any closer to a solution.
      What do you do with the people who aren’t needed anymore?
      Particularly when they feel like they deserve to get more than everyone else?


    • We talked about it a bit in the Cowen post albeit indirectly.

      Globalization and Capital mobility allow for corporations to move wherever labor is the cheapest. Obviously out sourcing is largely going to hurt unskilled workers first and hardest. People who used to have decent factory jobs with healthy wages and benefits have found their jobs replaced with low wage and no benefit service jobs. The factory work went overseas to lower wage countries. People are fearful that immigrants will work here for lower wages. This has been a fear for hundreds of years. Why should it be any different now? This is just the latest iteration of the story.

      Other jobs which can’t be outsourced like meat packing facilities have been destroyed through union-busting, using employment services/contract agencies instead of hiring employees, leveraged buyouts have destroyed pensions, etc.

      What other explanation are you looking for? You called this Revenge of the Archie Bunkers and we are saying why we think the Archie Bunkers are rebelling.


    • The problem is that the people doing the accusing can’t think of any rational (to them) reason to oppose immigration, and so they decide that the opposition must be for an irrational reason. And Everybody Knows Republicans Are Racist, so it must be racism.


      • “give us a rational reason why you oppose immigration.”

        Immigration as a general concept, or the kind of unrestricted “cross the border and you’re a citizen” immigration being urged on us?


      • Jim, I represent immigrants, with a focus on undocumented aliens, for a living. I can safely tell you that it the INA is not ever close to cross the border and your a citizen. Only the most passionate immigration activists are even advocated a system like that.


      • So gives us a rational reason why you oppose immigration.

        I’m coming more and more to support an open-borders policy. I’m not completely there yet, and may never be, but I mean to say that I don’t necessarily “oppose” immigration. But I have an answer to your question about how someone can “rationally” oppose immigration, provided “rationally” means “based on non-specious reasons that deserve a hearing, regardless of whether they’re ultimately convincing.”

        I’d say one reason is jobs competition. Some people feel jobs competition very acutely, and it’s not just working in agricultural labor*, it’s also construction work in cities and other low-paid service work.

        There are good arguments against the jobs competition thesis. In the long run, society will probably become richer, and the lower-waged labor (because it’s lower-waged) helps consumers by keeping prices down, and many of those consumers are people who are feeling the jobs competition. I also suspect that some industries require a certain minimum of labor in order to thrive or survive, so that what looks like jobs competition is actually the strengthening of an industry that increases availabel jobs, even in the short term and permits more of the same jobs to be created. I’m obviously no economist, but I’m open to all those possibilities.

        But I suspect that in some localities and some labor markets, the visible effects of immigration are non-negligible and cannot easily be dismissed or glossed over by slogans like, “the immigrants just do the jobs Americans don’t want to do” or by the inexorable appeal to racism and bigotry.** My main point is that there is a reason behind some opposition to immigration, and that reason at least deserves a sympathetic hearing from those who are not so immediately affected.

        * I wouldn’t be very surprised if native-born Americans used to work in menial agricultural jobs….Steinbeck’s “Okies” being one example. That example, of course, doesn’t work as well as I want it to. They were in a sense immigrants from outside of California, and treated with something like xenophobia, at least in Steinbeck’s telling.

        ** Not that those slogans and appeal aren’t true to some degree. And a deep investigation to anti-immigration attitudes probably reveals an indistinguishable mix of mutually reinforcing “reasonable” objections and bigoted ones that cannot be teased apart.


      • Saul,
        here’s a rational reason to not support unlimited child immigration. With our laws in this country, they can’t support themselves. Therefore, they will be a drag on folks already here. And we are already not serving our children as well as we could.


    • Normally, I just file this under “Haters gonna hate” and then think that at least one of the parties is going to want to capture their votes. I’m pretty sure similar xenophobic views can be found among the union/labour wing of the democratic party too. You’ve got to have a fairly cosmopolitan view in order to be welcoming to immigrants.

      There are a number of reasons for this:

      1. The social theories which posit that locals benefit from immigration are opaque even if accurate. The theories that posit net harm to locals are usually more vivid even if false.

      2. The benefits to foreigners is obvious while the benefits to locals is not.

      3. Any given individual’s vote (and views about policy) has negligible effect on policy

      The above reasons make the idea that foreigners are benefitting at the advantage of locals very attractive. Since the cost of acquiring true beliefs is high, few except those who are already relatively more educated are going to think that we benefit from immigration. Given that many people think opening up the borders makes things worse for locals but benefits foreigners, people need to be appropriately motivated (think foreigners’s well being is just as important as locals.)


      • And the relatively more educated are probably not in professions where immigration is going to hurt them directly. They could even benefit because they pay for household help from immigrants and paying them under the table.


      • Actually, over here, I rarely see low end jobs which locals want to do but which foreign workers have supposedly stolen. Actual job competition with foreigners happens at the professional level. All the low end jobs which foreigners do are in construction, some service sectors etc. These are things Singaporeans wouldn’t go within a mile near, largely because they are extremely menial jobs and lots of Singaporeans are too proud.

        (The fact that foreign workers are willing to work at a third the cost doesn’t hurt either. Of course, foreign workers also create demand for lots of other stuff that stimulate the local economy. And the reduced costs also allow businesses to do other things which either directly or indirectly create jobs that Singaporeans will fill. But no one ever notices that sort of stuff)


      • People on the left have been saying that immigrants do the jobs that American citizens don’t want to do for ages because the pay is low but the work demanding.


      • Saul and Murali,
        Your experience matches the numbers — most of the immigration into America is highly skilled Asians, not lowskilled Mexicans.

        Did I mention that, worldwide, Mexico has about as much power as England? Yup, and most of Mexico’s power is economic.

        Massive wave of Mexican immigration was fairly transient.


    • I thought I tried: rural America, a Republican stronghold, is terrified about its economic future, and can be convinced that immigration is one of the reasons things look so bleak. And to be honest, convincing them to be scared of immigrants, or scared of gays, or scared that the city folks are going to come and take their hunting rifles away, or a whole list of things, is easier than fixing the rural economy.


  8. This thing has so many angles to it, it looks like a triangle puking triangles.

    To believe the truth of any particular angle is almost meaningless anymore.


  9. Unpopularly (around here, anyway), I find the question of whether to send the kids back to be a complicated one, and I lean in favor of doing so. The entire thing, which deals with the most sympathetic of immigrants as can be imagined (they’re kids) actually makes me more wary of relaxing immigration laws than I was six months ago.

    What is distressing, as far as the GOP goes, is the extent to which many of the Republicans are not looking at this as a complex issue and are trying to make villains out of the children.


    • I agree that the issue is extremely complex. There is a big issue though that the US sort of caused the whole crisis or a lot of it because of our War on Drug policies and sending the kids back is really washing our hands of the situation and the kind of stuff that gives the US a bad name.

      We cause problems and don’t want to help fix them.


      • I would love to address the issue by way of de-escalating or eliminating the War on Drugs. There are a lot of factors at play, though, and that one is a constant (and I’m not sure the extent to which the enforcement of drug laws, even when they shouldn’t be, incurs the obligation of dictating immigration policy.).

        But as a “solution” to the problem, revisiting our drug policy would be at the top of my list. (Of course, it’s something I’d like to do anyway, making me a bit suspicious of myself.)


      • I’m fine with changing our drug policy, but i doubt it would have much effect on the desire of people to immigrate or if it did it would take years to see a difference. Plenty of immigrants are looking for jobs and better life, which mostly isn’t related to our drug policy. For the people where the drug related violence is an issue, there will still be violent gangs, corrupt and violent governments and little opportunity. It would be great if the drug gangs had less money, but they would still be just as violent and looking for ways to make money. They won’t decide to be tailors all of a sudden. And it would take legalizing almost all drugs to even have a major effect on the gangs, which we are nowhere near doing.


      • @greginak

        As I understand it, the kids are being sent or specifically fleeing from the violence of the cartels and the gangs and this is because of the drug war.


      • Saul, in the case of the kids we are getting now that is certainly true. But the central american countries they are coming from have in most cases been violent unhappy places aside from drug gangs. The drugs are, no doubt, part of it in those cases. I was speaking more towards immigration in general.


    • , many of the children coming over the border may have rights to be here under various provisions of the INA. Many of them might have valid claims for asylum as members of a particular social group. Others, who have relatives with status in the United States, could self potential Special Juvenile Immigrants. Sending them back without seeing if they have a valid claim is both illegal and unjust. They have a right to their day in Immigration Court.


      • The “due process” argument is one of the strongest ones for not expediting the process. Which is to say that it does seem to me that “due process” in this case should be defined by the laws under which they came here rather than ones determined afterwards. On the other hand, this might be a reason to revisit asylum policies, because if a large enough percentage of them are allowed to stay to continue to inspire more attempts, that’s problematic.

        (This tracks with my views on pension funds for government workers. I find the argument very compelling that we need to abide by the promises that we made, and I think that this compelling argument is in turn a compelling argument to stop making such promises going forward.)


  10. The weird thing to me is the number of people who think these children are ‘illegals’, which betrays a strange ignorance of how border crossings work.

    Specifically, you get permission to be in a country *after* you’re already in it. The way you cross a border is walk, or drive, or fly across, and *once you’re there*, you ask if you can stay. (Usually, until you get permission, you’re required to stay inside some sort of area the country defines as ‘not really in this country yet’, but, legally speaking, that’s a complete lie. You are, indeed, in that country…just try committing a crime while in that supposed ‘limbo’.)

    Which is what these kids are doing. Entering, and then asking to stay. Nothing illegal about it, at all. That doesn’t mean they *can* stay, but asking permission to stay and failing to get it is not criminal.

    Seriously, how do they think it works? That US immigration stands in *Mexico* and checks the papers of people before they enter? Does that not strike them as unworkable? Would Mexico really put up with INS agents wandering around claiming jurisdiction in Mexico? Has none of them ever gone to another country before?

    Or do they think the border is like a forcefield, where people walk up to it and talk to people on the other side of it, who then open a gate exactly on the border and let them across? How do they think that works for people in airplanes, or even cars?

    I just find myself completely baffled. You’d think the people who were screaming and hollering most about illegal immigration would learn how the borders really work.

    I’m reminded of that couple where one was a Mexican and one an American, and for immigration purposes wanted to get married in America (As that makes proving marriage much easier), but the Mexican member didn’t have permission to ‘enter America’. So the couple simply boarded a boat and got married on the American half of the Rio Grande, which, thanks to waterway agreements, anyone can legally boat up and down either side of, but is technically US soil. The person performing the marriage (an American) registered the marriage in the US, and tada. Married in the US, with a person in the marriage not passing the border checkpoint.


      • Jim, you do know there was a bill signed by Bush 2 with support from both parties that says we will take the children temporarily while we figure out what to do with due process. We can’t really just turn them away at the border. It actually the law that we have to put them someplace while we figure out what will happen with each kid.


  11. People tend to misuse the term “begging the question”; they tend to use it when they mean to say “raising the question”.

    If you want to show someone an example of an actual “begging the question”, just direct them to this post.


  12. In real life, I represent immigrants for a living and I’ll be the first to tell you that the INA is possibly the second most complicated part of the American legal system after tax law. Nearly everybody that is involved with debates about immigration that isn’t intimately involved with the American immigration system gets lots of facts wrong.

    First the technical word for deportation in the American immigration system is removal. Undocumented aliens are removed from the United States not deported. Before Congress passed IRAIRA in 1996, aliens without valid visas were deported or excluded from the United States based on how far they got into the United States before the Federal government learned of their presence. IRAIRA combined deportation and exclusion proceedings into removal proceedings.

    Removing an undocumented alien isn’t easy. Its the government burden to prove that aliens are removable from the United States under the INA. That means they must initiate formal removal hearings against an alien. Aliens usually have at least one avenue for relief to prevent removal available to them unless they have a rather serious criminal history in this country. One reason why the child migrant crisis is a crisis is that the United States government simply can’t send the child migrants back to where they came. They need to initiate formal removal proceedings against them and ensure that the legal rights of the children are honored.


  13. “Could it be that when the American Dream seems a long way off, that you might be tempted to “circle the wagons?””

    I don’t doubt that this might be (part of) the reason for what you observe, but I am troubled that when this same mentality is expressed by other groups, it is often most decried by these same Archie Bunker types.


  14. Archie Bunker was afraid of change; his daughter’s feminism, his son-in-law’s pacifism, the black families moving into his neighborhood all provoked his fears of change, and the comedy of he show rooted in how he dealt with that fear.

    I don’t know about the social science to say one way or the other, but there is a good deal of it suggesting that fear of change is one of the hallmarks of conservatism; and large groups of non-native speaking people in any community provoke change within that community.


  15. There seems to be some disconnect between the Republican base/politicians and some of their major constituencies right now in how to deal with the migrant children situation. A fair number of (ordinarily) conservative religious groups have tried to dissuade the GOP from taking the Louie Gohlmert style stupid parade of fail in dealing with the situation.


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