Do Democrats believe in open borders? By not enforcing immigration law, it looks that way.

Robert Robb
For months, Republicans have falsely claimed that Democrats believe in open borders. But that's starting to have the ring of truth.

For years, Republicans have claimed that Democrats favor “open borders” when it comes to immigration. Democrats have protested that this is an inaccurate depiction of their position.

Historically, Democrats were on sound ground rejecting Republican hyperbole about their views. These days, however, when you look at the array of positions in the party, from the rank and file to prominent 2020 contenders, “open borders” is starting to have the ring of truth. 

While there has been a slight slowdown of late, the border has been overrun with immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras traveling with children. They turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents, saying they are seeking asylum.

The courts have established an inescapable box regarding what the United States can do with such immigrants. The courts have held that children can be held for no more than 20 days, and that families cannot be separated.

Show up with a child, get a pass

After a brief detention, they are released into the country with a court appearance scheduled for some distant time in future. The word has gotten out: Show up at the U.S. border with a child, claim asylum and you will be admitted into the country. 

Most people fleeing conditions in these Central American countries, however, aren’t legally eligible for asylum. It requires a fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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Fleeing because of a fear of violence, irrespective of how valid, or due to a lack of economic opportunity, doesn’t qualify someone for refugee status, unless it is because of one of the enumerated group identities.

This is not what’s happening in these countries. They are violent and lack economic opportunity. But people aren’t singled out for the misery because of their group identity. The misery is a general condition for a substantial portion of the population.

Democrats' de facto policy: Let them in

Republicans want to change policy so that showing up at the border with a child and claiming asylum doesn’t automatically result in admission, in the belief that would staunch the flow overwhelming border resources.

What do Democrats want to do about this true crisis at the border? The implication of many of their assorted positions and assertions is: Let them all in. 

Some presidential candidates, reinforcing that impression, support making illegal entry a civil rather than criminal offense. But that's just one element of several.

Many Democrats, while decrying conditions in existing detention facilities, oppose adding any detention beds or building facilities. If conditions are intolerable but no capacity is to be added, then the only other alternative is to let everyone who shows up at the border into the country.

The only concrete proposal Democrats have offered to staunch the flow of immigrants from these Central American countries is to restore and increase foreign aid to them. The party’s belief in the ameliorative powers of U.S. foreign aid is, to borrow a Samuel Johnson phrase from an entirely different context, a triumph of hope over experience. In the meantime, the Democratic position seems to be: Let them all in.

Ignoring laws creates an open border 

President Donald Trump is playing immigration politics big-time, and in an increasingly vile way. He announced immigration raids for those with deportation orders, which never materialized.

Democrats denounced them. But if we aren’t going to deport those who have had their day in court and have been ordered out of the country, who are we going to deport? And without deportation, what are the consequences for violating U.S. immigration laws?

If there are no consequences for violating immigration laws, how is that different from having an open border? At this point, what immigration laws would Democrats be willing to enforce?

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Many Democrats support amnesty for most of those in the country illegally. I agree with them. But should our immigration laws be ignored until Congress so acts?

Lambasting Trump is not enough

In the past, in exchange for amnesty, Democrats have been willing to support tougher enforcement of immigration laws in the future, and changing legal immigration from an emphasis on family unification to merit admissions based upon education and skills. At this point, it is no longer clear that Democrats would be willing to make that bargain.

Under Trump, the Republicans have become a hard-edged immigration restrictionist party. Do whatever can be done to reduce immigration, illegal and legal. And do it regardless of the consequences in terms of family breakups or disrupting settled lives based upon years of indifferent enforcement of our immigration laws — or on the performance of the U.S. economy.

For the most part, Democrats spend their days lambasting the Trump administration’s immigration policies. They should spend some time formulating alternatives.

Right now, their rhetoric sounds an awful lot like the advocacy of open borders.

Robert Robb is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @RJRobb

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Immigration: Democrats must stop bashing Trump, start proposing ideas