‘Fairness’: The Real Reason Americans Souring on Immigration Status Quo

Murietta Immigration Faceoff AP

The new Breitbart/Gravis poll finding Americans deeply worried about immigration issues and highly skeptical of open-borders “solutions” is not an outlier.

The intensity of some negative responses was remarkable, but other polls have found Americans pessimistic about illegal immigration, and even souring on the legal variety, for quite some time.

For example, Bloomberg News professed surprise that an A.T Kearney/NPD Group poll from March 2016 detected a pattern of opinion similar to the Breitbart/Gravis results. “The degree of concern is remarkable considering that the question was about all immigration, including the legal kind,” Bloomberg wrote. Among those remarkable findings was that even the demographic least likely to believe “immigration jeopardizes the U.S.,” millennials, agreed with that position fully 55 percent of the time.

An effort was made to discard America’s souring on immigration as partisan noise, with an executive from the Kearney group sneering to Bloomberg that “the desperate state of national politics” makes people “vulnerable to jingoistic sloganeering.” One can only wonder which “jingoistic slogan” he might have had in mind.

On the other hand, Pew Research Center had a poll in April that showed American opinions on immigrants sharply improving over the last 20 years, with only 33% describing them as a “burden” now, as opposed to 63% who felt that way in 1994.

Pew found a sharp partisan divide on the issue, with Republican and Democrat views beginning to “diverge” around 2006, as a growing percentage of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents began saying “immigrants strengthen the country,” while the opinions of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents remained largely unchanged.

Pew also detected a much larger generation gap in opinion than A.T. Kearney/NPD Group did, with millennial approval for immigrants positively skyrocketing from 59 percent to 76 percent since 2013, while older cohorts gave approval ratings over 20 points lower.

Some pollsters have argued that immigration approval tends to rise and fall with public perception of the economy, on the theory that people are less concerned with immigration problems when a roaring economy is producing plenty of jobs. That could be somewhat difficult to square with the Breitbart/Gravis results, since the public is supposedly comfortable with the current state of the economy, as reflected in an uptick for President Obama’s approval numbers. Of course, it’s possible public perception of the economy is less positive than pollsters insist, or that they’re strongly worried about the future, even if they think the current situation is agreeable.

The “partisan politics” effect is likewise difficult to square with the latest poll’s findings of majority Democrat support for many negative immigration positions, especially since Democrats have been hammered with the idea that support for open-borders immigration policy and amnesty are synonymous with support for their Party and its presidential candidate. Resistance to amnesty, support for a border fence, and anything that smacks of “putting Americans first” are supposed to be the hallmarks of Trumpian nativism and xenophobia.

Perhaps the key to reconciling these poll results lies in considering the strong, cross-partisan desire of the electorate for “fairness.”

Of course, people define “fairness” in very different ways, but there is a growing general sense that a great deal of the populace is not being treated fairly. Anger about a “rigged system” is common to populism on both Left and Right. People in almost every political group and demographic believe that Americans who play by the rules should get a fair shake from The System. (Remember President Obama’s constant hosannas to “the people who work hard and play by the rules,” which mysteriously stopped right around the time the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders began heating up?)

The questions in the Breitbart/Gravis poll are largely pitched from this perspective of fairness: existing citizens shouldn’t lose large numbers of jobs due to either legal or illegal immigration, existing citizens should have first crack at jobs before foreign guest workers are brought in, the needs of American workers should outweigh the demands of companies looking for cheap labor, illegal immigrants shouldn’t be rewarded with citizenship schemes that put them ahead of those trying to immigrate legally, government funds should be spent on rebuilding American cities instead of providing benefits for foreign nationals.

The critic of “populist” immigration reform decries such results as evidence of selfishness or chauvinism, but for many people, it’s all about that fair shake. Fairness could be the best way to present sensible immigration reforms, rocking open-borders advocates back on their heels as they fumble to explain why American citizens must be treated unfairly to make their agenda work.

Quite a few people on the Left would be receptive to such arguments, especially when Hillary Clinton is babbling about trillion-dollar tax increases to keep the welfare state and Obama’s centrally-planned economy afloat. If money is that tight, how can anyone justify expending vast resources on people who aren’t legal citizens, or importing huge numbers of legal citizens that will place a greater strain on the system?

The Pew poll points toward a point of contention: the question of whether people believe immigrants are a net drain on public resources, or an economic asset. That’s irrelevant to the question of whether it’s fair for existing citizens to lose job opportunities, but on the question of stressing government resources, it might be noted that public resources are spread thinner than ever. Almost everybody, whether an existing citizen or a new immigrant, needs government subsidies to afford health insurance now, thanks to ObamaCare.

Another way of looking at the fairness issue is that immigration restrictions and law enforcement tend to poll worse when they’re personalized — not abstract discussions about law enforcement, but personalized stories about individual people and families who will suffer, if immigration laws are enforced.

That only works when the people who suffer from open borders immigration are de-personalized, and rendered invisible, much the way ObamaCare can only be presented as a “success” if everyone harmed by it is completely ignored. Discussing individual citizens who are pushed out of jobs by madcap immigration policy puts a personal face back on the victim, which brings that issue of fairness back in play.

Immigration advocates love to pretend that nobody is treated unfairly by their agenda, so all complaints about the results are peevish and pointlessly cruel. That’s not true, and it’s high time to put a human face back on the people who pay the price for bad policy.