How the Democratic Debate Played in Central America: Some Perspectives on Non-Enforcement Pandering

By Jerry Kammer on March 14, 2016

Last week's Democratic debate was a remarkable example of how far Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are pushing their party to pander to the Hispanic vote. Their competition for the title of "most lax on border enforcement" was closely watched in many countries. Here is the lead of the story in the Honduran newspaper La Prensa:

The Democratic candidates for the presidency of the USA, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, committed to not deporting children or undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes and distanced themselves from the policy of President Barack Obama in this respect.

That had to be encouraging news for anyone in Honduras who is thinking about setting out on the long trip through El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico for an illegal crossing into the United States. It reminded me of instances in the past, when similar comments from American political figures led to reports of an upsurge in illegal immigration.

Reihan Salam, writing for Slate about the Clinton-Sanders debate, made this observation:

Essentially, they seem to be suggesting that there is no need for immigrants to go through the proper legal channels, provided they are nonviolent. It is not difficult to imagine such a policy setting off a migration wave that would match those seen in Germany, Sweden, and other European democracies over the past year and that has contributed to a sharp increase in anti-immigration sentiment in those countries.

And then yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Karl Rove had this disapproving take on the non-enforcement pledge:

What's involved here is the rule of law. The president of the United States has no authority to suspend the enforcement of our immigration laws, in toto, as Hillary Clinton proposed.

The battered rule of law is a major concern of civil society in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, three troubled countries that continue to see a large-scale exodus of their citizens fleeing disorder and poverty and setting out for the United States. Their bet is that, first, American law enforcement will not stop them from entering and, second, that American lawmakers will allow them to stay. Hillary is music to their ears, and they are learning to feel the Bern.

A weekend editorial in the Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Grafica shows that anxiety about the collapsing rule of law presents a parallel to Rove's concern about the rule of law on our side of the border. After stating that criminal violence in El Salvador has produced "an environment ever more saturated with anxiety and frustration," the editorial continued: "We have to impose the rule of law. ... What we are breathing in the national atmosphere is a more and more unbearable lack of security. No one lives in safety anywhere. ... It isn't strange, therefore, that there is so much discontent and so much anger in a citizenry that is so beleaguered and frustrated."

So the panorama is this: A failed rule of law in Central America is a major factor in the massive illegal immigration that undermines the rule of law in the United States, persuading Democratic presidential candidates that in order to appeal to the ever-more-important Latino vote, they have to promise to ignore the rule of law.

Having lived for many years in the Southwest, I wish the Democrats could understand that many Latinos are upset by the situation as well. And I wish the Republicans would understand that if they could avoid Trump-like expressions of hostility, if they appealed to Latinos as fellow Americans concerned about maintaining the rule of law and our quality of life, they could make a much more persuasive case for the need to enforce limits on immigration. Most Latinos are wise to the pander-fest. The Latino political class loves it. Many in the Latino working class do not.

Topics: Politics