The Democrats are routinely diluting the significance of citizenship
Gavin Newsom has big plans for California. Among his first acts as governor was to ask the state legislature to expand health coverage for illegal immigrants. California began offering insurance for illegal-immigrant children some years ago; now Newsom wants to raise the age limit for receiving subsidized health care to 26. “We will never waver in our pursuit of guaranteed health care for all Californians,” he said in his inaugural address. That includes individuals residing in the state illegally.
Around the same time, on the other side of the country, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio offered a similar proposal. He wants the city to spend another $100 million on its shambolic public hospital system so that illegal immigrants are treated at clinics before they crowd emergency rooms. “From this moment on in New York City,” de Blasio said, “everyone is guaranteed the right to health care — everyone.”
The Newsom and de Blasio initiatives are more than your standard bleeding-heart social spending. Democratic politicians are beginning to act on the realization that they govern large numbers of people who, under the letter of the law, should not be here. Coastal and metropolitan Democrats increasingly represent individuals who cannot vote, do not pay income taxes, and are ineligible for military service and jury duty. This epiphany has led the progressive movement to begin to elide and subvert the distinction between citizens and noncitizens. Such policies do not simply undermine the rule of law. They erode our sense of national identity, our constitutional structure, and the idea of Americans as a self-governing people.
The left wing of the Democratic party has embraced the concept of open borders all but explicitly. Its members establish sanctuary cities and states, issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, oppose the construction of border barriers, and call for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The long-term objective is to grant illegal immigrants the privileges of citizenship, such as taxpayer-funded entitlements, political representation, and even voting rights.
Elected officials are often circumspect when discussing these issues, but journalists are more than willing to express their principles and goals. Last December, New York Times op-ed columnist Michelle Alexander found herself in surprising agreement with the Trump administration: Birthright citizenship, she argued, is unjust and unwarranted. “None of us born here did anything to deserve our citizenship,” she wrote. “On what moral grounds can we deny others rights, privileges, and opportunities that we did not earn ourselves?”
There aren’t any such grounds, according to Farhad Manjoo, who also writes a column for the Times. “When you see the immigration system up close, you’re confronted with its bottomless unfairness,” he wrote. “The system assumes that people born outside our borders are less deserving of basic rights than those inside.” The universality of human rights, in Manjoo’s view, trumps the particularities of national citizenship. The conclusion of his piece is summarized by its headline: “There’s Nothing Wrong with Open Borders.”
The Democratic party’s approach toward immigration is part of its stunning leftward shift over the last decade. As recently as 2007, a bipartisan consensus held that illegal immigrants should not benefit from the public fisc. “As president,” Hillary Clinton said that year, “I will not support driver’s licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration, including border security and fixing our broken system.”
When Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress wrote the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, they blocked illegal immigrants from purchasing plans on health exchanges and from receiving tax subsidies. “The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally,” President Obama said during a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2009. That prompted Representative Joe Wilson (R., S.C.) to scream, “You lie!”
Wilson was getting ahead of himself — and of the Democrats. By the spring of 2015, Clinton had changed her position on driver’s licenses. As I write, twelve states and the District of Columbia issue licenses to illegal immigrants, with New Jersey and Wisconsin contemplating doing the same. Obamacare still technically forbids illegal immigrants to participate in the exchanges, but give progressives time. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Medicare-for-all proposal included illegal immigrants. Former Michigan representative John Conyers’s 2017 single-payer bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to judge whether illegal immigrants are eligible. Three guesses what the administrative state would decide.
Sanders’s 2017 Senate bill, co-sponsored by several presidential contenders, covers “every individual who is a resident of the United States.” Note the absence of the adjective “legal” before “resident.” The legislation also inhibits “travel and immigration to the United States for the sole purpose of obtaining health care services.” Why anyone would want to come to America for Berniecare is a question left unanswered.
Kirsten Gillibrand exemplifies the Democratic embrace of illegal immigration. The New York senator and 2020 presidential aspirant began her career opposed to amnesty and supportive of immigration enforcement and deportations. She said “you have to close the borders” in a 2007 interview and called doing so “a national-security priority.” Recently, though, when CNN asked her about such comments, she replied, “I think it’s important to know when you are wrong and to do what is right, and I will do what is right, and I will fight for what is right, and I don’t back down from those fights.” These days Gillibrand is fighting to abolish ICE and enact Medicare-for-all.
The Democratic Left is invested in the continuance and normalization of illegal immigration to such a degree that it opposes determining the number of citizens of the United States. On January 15, a district-court judge in Manhattan blocked the Trump administration from adding a question to the 2020 census that would ask people about their citizenship. Eighteen Democratic attorneys general had filed suit to stop the inquiry. They argued that a citizenship question would skew the results by lowering the numbers of census respondents. Judge Jesse M. Furman, an Obama appointee, sided with them not on substantive but rather on procedural grounds.
“Census data tell the story,” noted Howard Husock in a perceptive article for City Journal. “The foreign-born population exceeds 20 percent in more than 50 Democratic congressional districts; the comparable figure for Republican districts is 11. In the district of celebrity congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 25 percent of residents are foreign-born non-citizens, according to the American Community Survey.” Husock points out that congressional representation and federal appropriations are determined by overall population count. “But there’s a cynical bargain here,” he adds. “Democrats ‘represent’ millions of constituents who have not voted for them — and, by definition, may not.” This isn’t representation. It’s serfdom.
Unless Stacey Abrams can help it. The defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate recently told Margaret Hoover of PBS’s Firing Line that she doesn’t oppose noncitizens’ voting in municipal elections. Currently, San Francisco allows illegal immigrants to vote in school-board elections, and several localities in Maryland grant illegal immigrants suffrage. “I’m not arguing for it or against it,” Abrams said, “but I will say, having been deputy city attorney, the granularity of what cities decide is so specific as to, I think, allow people to be participants in the process without it somehow undermining our larger democratic ethic that says that you should be a citizen to be a part of the conversation.”
Abrams is wrong. Shielding illegal immigrants from law enforcement, granting them taxpayer-provided benefits, and treating them as you would legal immigrants and citizens does in fact undermine our larger democratic ethic. Regarding citizenship as an irrelevance rather than an honor both disincentivizes naturalization and corrupts the idea of the sovereign people. As one prominent Democrat put it:
It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: citizen.
So spoke Barack Obama in his farewell address. Maybe he should give Gavin Newsom a call.