Three competing hearings in Washington examine illegal immigration. Trafficking, fentanyl, and the economic impact of mass immigration come into focus.
On-screen, a clip from the movie “Sound of Freedom” shows Department of Homeland Security special agent Tim Ballard, played by Jim Caviezel, rescuing a scared little boy from a trafficker at the border.
As the scene ends, the real Tim Ballard pipes up: “This scene depicts a moment from my real life I’ll never forget.”
Mr. Ballard was testifying before the Republican-controlled House’s Homeland Security Committee. He was one of four witnesses who appeared at a hearing on what the committee described as “the devastating human costs of the Biden-Mayorkas border crisis.”
Others who spoke included Mayra Cantu, the wife of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, and Sandy Snodgrass, the mother of a young Alaskan—Robert Bruce Snodgrass—who died of fentanyl poisoning.
“Alaska’s being targeted by the drug cartels,” she testified. Ms. Snodgrass recommended that the cartels and their partners be designated terrorist organizations.
Elsewhere in the nation’s capital, the Democrat-controlled Senate’s budget committee was holding a very different hearing on immigration.
Its title, “Unlocking America’s Potential: How Immigration Fuels Economic Growth and Our Competitive Advantage,” cast the immigration debate in a different light.
“When we restrict immigration, we lose, and other countries gain instead,” Ms. Glennon said.
In another House hearing, this one titled “The Impact of Biden’s Open Border on the American Workforce,” the Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven Camarota spoke about some of the economic costs of the open border, particularly for those Americans who compete against low-wage illegal entrants.
After returning from recess earlier this month, lawmakers have wasted little time driving competing narratives on an ongoing border crisis that has seen illegal immigrants pour across the southwest border and into sanctuary cities across the country.
The three hearings, scheduled for the same, or roughly the same time on Sept. 13, underscored the significance of the border, and immigration more generally, as the 2024 election approaches.
They also reaffirmed how deep the partisan divide on the issue runs, at least in today’s Washington.
Where many Republicans may see a crisis, many Democrats may still see an opportunity.
Public Opinion and Immigration Realpolitik
Not so very long ago, the two major parties were more united on immigration—for better or for worse.
The Security Fence Act of 2006, which helped fund hundreds of miles of border fencing, passed the Senate 80–19. Future President Barack Obama, then the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, was among its supporters.
With the exception of the late Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and a few others, all Senate Republicans voted for the bill.
So did most Senate Democrats, though not Tennessee’s Al Gore.
Although the bill met with more Republican opposition in the House, it passed there too.
A Republican president, George H.W. Bush, then signed it into law.
In recent years, the immigration issue has become more polarized along partisan lines.
Opinion polling could offer some insights into why.
The Center for Immigration Studies’ 2022 analysis projected the percentage could have hit 14.9 percent by now, higher than at any point in the nation’s history.
Immigrants who can vote tend to favor Democrats over Republicans.
Asian and Hispanic Americans, who make up the overwhelming majority of recent immigrants, also break Democratic.
Thus, for Democrats, more immigration may be the formula for electoral success.
The latest influx of migrants into major American cities far from the southern border, busload after teeming busload, may be making its mark on American politics too.
Opposition to immigration, or at least illegal immigration, is currently associated with Republicans.
Yet, some libertarian and conservative think tanks that are aligned with the GOP on many, if not most issues can be counted on to advocate more immigration, including of low-skilled workers.
“A thriving economy will need people of all types. Immigration isn’t the singular answer, but it helps,” said David J. Bier of the Cato Institute in the Senate hearing.
In the House hearing on the open border and the workforce, Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum, which describes itself as center-Right, pointed out that employers may find some of the dynamics created by illegal immigration advantageous.
“More generally, nobody should favor illegal immigration,” he stated in that same testimony, while also outlining what he presented as the benefits of making high-skilled illegal immigrants legal.
On the other hand, at least one unexpected figure backstopped some common conservative co-complaints about the economic impact of the U.S. immigration system.
“The firm ships as many jobs overseas as possible, but a sizable share of the work cannot be offshored because certain tasks and jobs are geographically sticky, requiring workers to have physical proximity to the client in the United States.
While Mr. Bier told senators that immigrants are needed to fill record job openings across various industries, the Center for Immigration Studies’ Mr. Camarota highlighted the fact that the labor force participation rate among working-age Americans has plummeted, helping to spur what he described as “enormous negative consequences for society”—”crime, drug overdose, social isolation, welfare dependency, and suicide.”
“Illegal immigration is not the only reason for this decline in work. However, using immigration to keep down wages makes work less attractive,” he said in his testimony before the House.