Remember That Time Bernie Used That Racist Argument Against Immigration Reform?

In recent weeks, Bernie Sanders has explained that his reason for voting against immigration reform in 2007 centered on the lack of protection from exploitation for guest workers. His vote against the bill essentially helped kill any chance of immigration reform at the time.

Ironically, however, in an interview with Lou Dobbs after voting against the bill, he explained that his main concern was the negative effect the program would have on the wages of American workers.

LAS VEGAS, NV - November 8, 2015: Bernie Sanders rally in North Las Vegas, NV on November 8, 2015. Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ MediaPunch/IPX
LAS VEGAS, NV – November 8, 2015: Bernie Sanders rally in North Las Vegas, NV on November 8, 2015. Credit: Erik Kabik Photography/ MediaPunch/IPX

Here is what he said to Lou Dubbs in 2007:

The reality is that I think a growing number of Americans understand that what happens in Congress is to a very significant degree dictated by big money interests. And these guys are basing their – their whole ideology is based on greed. They’re selling out American workers and in fact they’re selling out our entire country and that is a major struggle that we have got to engage in to take back our country from these very powerful and wealthy special interests…

Of course there is hope that we can change that. And I think there are a growing number of Americans who understand that there’s something wrong when the middle class in this country continues to shrink despite a huge increase in worker productivity, poverty continues to increase. Since Bush has been president, 5 million more Americans have slipped into poverty. Six million Americans more have lost their health insurance and the gap between the rich and everybody else is growing wider. So when President Bush tells you how great the economy is doing, what he is really saying is that the CEOs of large multinationals are doing very, very well. He’s kind of ignoring the economic reality of everybody else and that gets us to the immigration issue. If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now.

Watch the video below:

Here is what Sanders said on the floor of the Senate during the debates on the 2007 immigration reform bill at the time:

As I think we all know, this is a long and complicated bill. An important part of this bill deals with illegal immigration–how do we make sure we stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country; how do we finally begin to deal with employers who are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants; what do we do with 12 million people who are in this country who, in my view, we are not going to simply, in the middle of the night, throw out of this country. These are difficult and important issues. On those issues I am in general agreement with the thrust of this legislation. But, Mr. President, I wish to tell you there are areas in this bill where I have strong disagreement, and one is the issue of legal immigration, what we are doing in terms of bringing people into this country who, in my view, will end up lowering wages for American workers right now.

Watch the video below:

The assertion that immigration has a negative effect on the wages of American-born workers has been debunked by leading economists. But yet, this falsehood conveniently continues to be pushed by the racist anti-immigration movement. Thankfully, however, research shows otherwise.

Research shows that immigration will positively affect U.S. workers’ wages and employment. How can that be? While overly simplistic views of economic theory might suggest that wages will decline in the short run as the supply of labor increases, this is not the case with immigration for two reasons.

First, immigrants generally do not have a direct negative impact on the earnings of native-born workers, as native-born workers and immigrant workers generally complement each other rather than compete for the same job. Native-born workers and immigrants tend to have different skill sets and therefore seek different types of jobs. Thus, immigrants are not increasing the labor market competition for native-born workers and therefore do not negatively affect American workers’ earnings.

To be sure, there are some instances when immigrants and the native born are similarly skilled and substitutable for similar jobs. Recent research has found, however, that firms respond to an increase in the supply of labor by expanding their business. Thus, an increased supply of labor as a result of immigration is easily absorbed into the labor market as a result of increased demand for labor, without lowering the wages of native-born workers.

Second, research finds small but positive impacts on native-born workers because of the indirect effects that immigrants have on the labor market and economy. As economists Michael Clemens and Robert Lynch explain in The New Republic, “In some areas of the economy, lesser skilled immigrants have kept entire industries alive.” This not only helps native-born workers within the industries but also native-born workers whose jobs are associated or closely connected to those industries.

Research shows, for example, that as new immigrants come into the country, the number of jobs offshored in the manufacturing sector decreases. By ensuring that more manufacturing jobs stay in the United States, not only do native-born manufacturing workers benefit, but the demand for services that the manufacturing industry relies upon—such as the transportation of manufacture goods throughout the United States—also remains high. Thus the “upstream” jobs held by native-born workers in industries associated with manufacturing are also better off as a result of immigration.

Some of the labor unions who have funded Sanders’ political career sine 1989 also used the same argument to kill the bill in the Senate back in 2007. As you can see from the videos above, Sanders essentially caved to their pressure and also promoted the same false narrative promoted by anti-immigration racists like John Tanton. Yep, so much for special interest groups not being able to influence a vote by Bernie Sanders. Because, as puritanical and principled as he is, Sanders cannot be bought.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Bernie Sanders is racist. I am, however, plainly saying that Bernie Sanders was on the wrong side of history when he voted against immigration reform. And, the truth is that his reason for doing so sounds a lot like the arguments purported by members of the nativist “let’s keep America white” anti-immigration movement. You know, the same people who are now rallying behind Donald Trump? Because, of course, brown-skinned people are a threat.

I could be wrong, but perhaps this is the reason leading Latino activists like Dolores Huerta and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill) have chosen to endorse Hillary Clinton. After all, one’s vote is a measure of judgement, yes?

But like I said, I could be wrong. Maybe Bernie’s vote against immigration reform and his vote to protect the anti-immigrant militia the Minutemen which was sponsored by Senate Republicans – not to mention his vote in favor of legislation to secure the indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants before deportation – have nothing to do with anything.