A New People

By John Wahala on February 9, 2010

Not content with their political progress, certain figures on the Left have sought to use mass immigration as a way of bolstering their electoral support. The notion that a large majority of newcomers will naturalize, register, and vote for candidates that advocate radical agendas seems tenuous to some observers. But there is evidence that immigrants who vote generally favor Democratic candidates. And it is the prospect of increasing political clout that drives some ideologues to push for open-ended immigration policies.

This was articulated by Eliseo Medina, vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and an honorary chair of the Democratic Socialist of America. At a conference in 2009 sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, a group which describes itself as "the strategy center for the progressive movement," Mr. Medina said:

When they [Hispanics] voted, in November, they voted overwhelmingly for progressive candidates. Barack Obama got two out of every three voters that showed up . . . The progressive community needs to solidly be on the side of immigrants. They will solidify and expand the progressive coalition for the future . . . We reform the immigration laws it puts twelve million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. Can you imagine if we have even the same ratio, two out of three, if we have eight million new voters that care about our issues and be voting? We will create a governing coalition for the long term not just for an election cycle.

Those progressives adopting this strategy have moved beyond trying to convince the American people to support their agenda, which is centered on a greatly expanded role for government in society. Frustrated by a failure to achieve their goals, some of them are turning to Hispanic immigrants and would-be immigrants, who are much poorer, have much lower levels of education, and are more likely to use government subsidies. Using immigrants as pawns, progressives are ostensibly trying to help poor Americans by importing millions more poor people from abroad. And in doing so they have dismissed the American people's right to choose for themselves how they are to be governed.

It is not the first time Mr. Medina has used immigrants as pawns. In 2000, he was influential in changing the AFL-CIO's long-held position against immigration, which dates back to the 1860s. The union's recent reversal is contrary to their stated goals of negotiating better wages and working conditions for their members. As labor economist Vernon Briggs writes:

Immigration has always been a "no-win" situation for American unions. At every juncture, and with no exception prior to the 1980s, the union movement either directly instigated or strongly supported every legislative initiative enacted by Congress to restrict immigration. . . . As long as the labor market continues to be flooded with low-skilled immigrant job seekers, unions will not be able to defy the market forces that will suppress upward wage pressures.

This economic principle, that an increase in the labor supply suppresses wages, is being ignored by the major unions today. They ignore it because they believe mass immigration, although undermining the very reason they claim to exist, provides them with an opportunity for greater political power through expanded membership rolls. Although high levels of immigration have historically coincided with lower levels of union membership, embracing illegal immigration is a gamble by unions desperate for more members. So they have dismissed the interests of those they represent for personal gain.

Brazen political ambition has always been with us. Jefferson warned of knaves, whose natural progress lay in devising ways to increase their power at the people's expense. But merely exploiting one's own people is different from displacing them altogether. Perhaps even Jefferson would be shocked at recent attempts by elites to supplant the people.