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Immigration: The Left’s Big Bernie Bugaboo

Senator Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign legitimized the term “socialist” and made single-payer health care, free college tuition, and a $15 minimum wage credible issues for the Democratic Party, faces his most daunting challenge to date. A new generation of progressives is seeking to make immigration a firm dividing line between the two political parties, putting Sanders in a tough position.

For the better part of the 2018 election cycle, the Democratic Party, which Sanders views as his best vehicle to capture the presidency, has struggled to develop a singular message on immigration.

At various points, the party has attempted to paint the coming midterms as not only a referendum on President Donald Trump [1], but also on such wedge issues as tax cuts [2]gun control [3], health care [4], and abortion [5], among others. Each of these topics, while appealing to segments of the Democratic constituency, have failed to energize, let alone impassion, the party’s increasingly left-leaning base.

That is, however, until immigration appeared on the national radar in the form of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings.

That initiative, which sought to limit illegal immigration by charging with unlawful entry any individual who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, triggered a backlash from Democrats and liberal activists. The main point of contention was over allegations that the policy resulted in the separation [6] of migrant children from their parents due to federal regulations that prevented youths from being housed in the same detention facilities as adults.

Sensing an opportunity to bolster their electoral chances, Democrats flocked to the border in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. Yet few noted that their own party’s congressional leadership was partially to blame, having rebuffed [7] overtures by the president to find a legislative solution to the problem.

The Democrats’ emotional appeals to keep “families together [8]” quickly devolved into support for unmitigated migration and the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible [9] for enforcing immigration laws.

Previously a fringe issue associated with the far left, the movement to shutter ICE is now a rallying cry for the Democratic Party heading into the midterm elections. Not only has it picked up steam with candidates up and down the ballot, it’s also garnered the backing of potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand [10], Mayor Bill de Blasio [11], and Senator Elizabeth Warren [12].

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All of this has put Sanders, the left’s torchbearer who nearly toppled the ill-fated Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, in a precarious position. Sanders, long wary of open immigration on economic grounds, now finds himself increasingly at odds with a left clamoring for open borders.

This was on display during an appearance [13] on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, where Sanders was asked whether he supported abolishing ICE. He demurred, choosing instead to call on the president and Congress to “sit down” and deal with “this serious issue” in a “rational way.”

Sanders’ refusal to call for ICE’s abolition triggered outrage from progressive activists, like Jeremy Scahill—co-founder of The Intercept—who castigated [14] the senator for having chosen to stand “on the wrong side of history.”

Liberal publications [15] were no less forgiving. The New Republic offered a particularly fiery denouncement [16] that accused Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, of being neither a “doctrinaire leftist” nor a true “revolutionary.”

“It’s certainly true that Sanders is to the left of most Democrats,” writer Sarah Jones contended. “But contrary to how he’s often portrayed in the media, he is not a doctrinaire leftist. His principal benefit to the left has been to mainstream certain beliefs—namely, that access to health care, education, and living wages are rights, not luxuries. But Sanders is not a revolutionary.”

In response to mounting criticism, Sanders attempted to clarify [17] his stance by pointing to the fact that he was one of the only House members to vote against [18] ICE’s creation in 2002. In the hope of further appeasing the left, Sanders declared his support for abolishing “the cruel, dysfunctional immigration system we have today” in favor of “comprehensive immigration reform.” Perhaps tellingly, however, he did not commit himself to the dissolution of ICE, only saying that the agency was in need of “restructuring [19].”

Sanders’ demurral on this matter and the response it provoked underscore how far the senator has diverged from liberal orthodoxy on the issue of immigration.

Throughout his tenure in Congress, Sanders has been generally supportive [20] of creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. He has also advocated for extending [21] the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted legal protections to nearly 800,000 illegal immigrants brought to the country as children.

While such sentiments are very much in line with the majority of the Democratic Party, Sanders’ views on migration—both lawful and unlawful—as well as border control are not.

In 2007, Sanders joined with conservatives in the Senate to defeat [22] a comprehensive immigration reform measure championed by the late Ted Kennedy and then-president George W. Bush. He opposed [23] the legislation on the grounds that it would create a new visa program to “bring millions of ‘guest workers’ into this country who are prepared to work for lower wages than American workers.”

In the past, Sanders has opposed expanding the cap on the number of H-1B visas, granted to guest workers in highly specialized fields of occupation, because this would serve to “depress wages [24].”

Sanders has also shown hostility to the notion of open borders, which might explain his unwillingness to endorse abolishing ICE.

In 2015, shortly after announcing his presidential bid, the senator conducted an interview [25] where he was asked if he believed global poverty could be solved by “sharply raising the level of immigration,” perhaps even to the point of “open borders.” Sanders lambasted the idea, claiming it was a “right-wing proposal.”

“It would make everybody in America poorer—you’re doing away with the concept of a nation-state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that,” he said, adding: “What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them.”

Sanders’ view on the adverse economic effects of immigration stands in stark contrast to the Democratic Party’s adherence to identity politics, driven in part by the belief [26] that “demographics are destiny.”

His contention that open borders destroy the “concept of a nation-state” is far closer to President Trump’s assertion [27] that “a country without borders isn’t a country” than to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s argument that illegal migrants have a “right of passage [28]” to enter the U.S. freely.

Sanders’ stance on immigration again reared [29] its head during the 2016 Democratic primaries, when Hillary Clinton accused him of being closer to Trump on immigration than herself. Sanders, for his part, was able to diffuse the controversy by otherwise being far to the left of Clinton and the other Democrats vying for the party’s nomination, thereby leaving progressives with no other alternative.

As The New Republic noted, Sanders’ preeminent contribution to the current political landscape has been to shift the Overton Window on issues from universal health care to free college tuition. In 2020, should Sanders run, he is not likely to have the luxury of competing against candidates to his right in what is expected to be a wide and ideologically diverse field.

In fact, given how far some Democrats have moved to the left, Sanders could even be viewed as something of a moderate in the 2020 crowd—at least when compared to the likes of Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren.

Haris Alic is a social media writer at the Washington Free Beacon.

39 Comments (Open | Close)

39 Comments To "Immigration: The Left’s Big Bernie Bugaboo"

#1 Comment By connecticut farmer On July 11, 2018 @ 10:31 pm

Watch and see.

First it’ll be no borders around countries on the grounds of “Right of Passage” followed by:

No fences around property-“Right of Passage” again, followed by:

Would you believe no locks on doors? Never happen? Guess again. Yep, you guessed it–“Right of Passage.”

In the words of the old Mamas and the Papas song: “Go where you want to go / Do what you want to do”

What say all you revolutionaries out there!

#2 Comment By Fred On July 12, 2018 @ 4:15 am

I’m going to assume the author is much more educated than I, which begs the question. If I know “abolishing ICE” is not a call for, or doesn’t mean open borders, how is it that someone who gets paid to inform the public doesn’t know? I dont buy it.

#3 Comment By rhine gold cowboy On July 12, 2018 @ 7:16 am

I know I’m not the only anti-immigration, Trump-voting Bernie Bro out there.

#4 Comment By cka2nd On July 12, 2018 @ 8:22 am

The word is “denunciation,” not “denouncement.”

#5 Comment By Lars On July 12, 2018 @ 8:24 am

I think there is a contradiction in the Democrats’ position. There is a basic incompatibility between open borders and an extensive national social safety net such as the Europeans have. Sanders is right: open borders is a policy favorable to the wealthy, not the rest of us. Moreover, a fair and enforced immigration system does not mean no immigration.

#6 Comment By TheScientist880 On July 12, 2018 @ 8:25 am

“Senator Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign legitimized the term “socialist” and made single-payer health care, free college tuition, and a $15 minimum wage credible issues for the Democratic Party, faces his most daunting challenge to date.”

Wow. Dishonest from the first sentence. I don’t even like Sanders. I sure don’t think a 70 year old from a tiny rural state should be president. Sanders has made clear that he identifies as a democratic-socialist which is very different from straight socialism where the people own the means of production. You can’t be taken seriously when you can’t make it through one sentence properly describing the man’s beliefs. Isn’t this what you Conservatives are always crying about?

#7 Comment By TG On July 12, 2018 @ 8:35 am

Sanders is right – “open borders” is not left, or progressive. It’s far-right, it’s all about cheap labor. We should stop calling these cheap-labor democrats “liberals” as they are no such thing.

#8 Comment By ControlE On July 12, 2018 @ 8:43 am

This is why Sanders is still the closest politician to hitting the majority of my beliefs. You can consider me a moderate or a centrist. I do not believe the left has all of the answers, and I do not believe the right has all of the answers. Every issue should weighed on its own merit.

I don’t agree with everything Sanders supports (minimum wage should be increased, but I don’t think it should goto $15/hr); but he is one of the few politicians who has isn’t afraid to pick and choose his positions instead of just accepting the party line. Regardless of how people on the right feel about him, he actually straddles the line between the right on a lot of issues. Trump’s tariff plans came straight from Sanders campaign.

Like Sanders I support a protectionist economy; and I agree with him that to have a strong protected economy you must control immigration- at least to a certain point.

#9 Comment By Tancred On July 12, 2018 @ 8:55 am

The attacks on Sanders over immigration reveal the true class nature of so-called socialists and liberals these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if DSA members were mostly from the upper-middle class. They are the kind of people that practice telescopic philanthropy supporting policies like open borders because they like to hire illegal labor to cut their grass, clean their house and watch their children. None of them have to compete with illegal labor nor do they have their towns burdened with a large influx of newcomers who produce more expenditures on social welfare, police and education.

I would love to ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez what she thought about fellow Hispanic Cesar Chavez’s stance on immigration. I doubt she would even know who Chavez is and if she did she would probably only know the mythological Hispanic nationalist version and not the real Cesar Chavez who supported defending the border and restricting immigration since he knew that importing immigrant labor would reduce the wages of his farm workers.

I hope Sanders sticks to his guns and makes a labor-left argument against open borders and mass immigration. It will likely cost him the Democratic nomination for president but I don’t think he would win anyway since the Democratic Party primary is now dominated by pro-abortion fanatics and identity politics panderers. As soon as the “abolish ICE” stuff started to pop up I knew Sanders would be in trouble.

#10 Comment By Jon On July 12, 2018 @ 9:30 am

Revolutionaries dwell not within a monolith. They are divided on strategy as well as ideologically. That Sen. Sanders is not as favorably disposed to an open-ended immigration policy does not exclude him from the revolutionary camp.

Although he differs on salient points from his sectarian Marxist forebears who remain trapped inside the confines of third party politics as purists, he still remains an advocate for Max Shachtman’s realignment of the Democratic Party. He seeks his revolutionary dream through the ballet box and the two party system.

Of course he seeks a comprehensive immigration policy on economic grounds. But he sits on the crossroads between the Old Left’s embrace of the trade labor movement and the New Left’s culturalist gloss on Marx which has been sullied by the emergence of an extreme form of identity politics.

What Sen. Sanders would prefer is to isolate this culturalist tendency by identifying it with Neoliberalism. In short he opposes this ideology which favors open borders, the free movement of both finance capital and workers, and a deregulated globalized economy.

He wants to jettison this New Left bias that places, from his perspective, undue emphasis on the superstructure (the cultural garnish) that sits atop of the base structure (where the dialectical tension between the forces and relations of production lie). And he seeks this decoupling because from his standpoint, culturalism has become a tool of the bourgeoisie.

In short, he wants to bring the Socialist movement back to its labor roots by reinvigorating the Democratic Party with a leftward tilt. As third party politics has historically been proven ineffectual for shaping the public discourse with the exception of a few instances, he seeks to transform the Democratic Party into a labor party.

In this regard, he is no moderate while the seemingly more extreme elements in the Democratic Party might prove to be more amenable to the Neoliberalism as orchestrated by previous Democratic administrations.

#11 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 12, 2018 @ 10:03 am

A bit of history: It was never a secret that among us Trump supporters there were significant numbers who — if the Republican convention had been stolen from Trump — would have crossed over to Sanders (until, of course, the DNC and the Dem “superdelegates” stole the Democratic primaries and convention, respectively, from Sanders and gave the hijacked Dem nomination to the wicked Hillary).

Why, you ask, would a significant number of Trump-less Trump supporters have moved to Sanders? Because he was solid on jobs (including stopping the sending of US manufacturing jobs overseas), the damage from phoney “free trade,” and the importance of access to health care and education. Also, of enormous importance to Trump supporters, Sanders was solid on stopping out-of-control immigration (both illegal and legal) because it hurt American workers.

If at any point Sanders had flipped in his opposition to open borders immigration, the number of Trump-less Trump supporters willing to have switched to Sanders would have shrunk to nothing.

#12 Comment By Johansson On July 12, 2018 @ 10:46 am

As a European socialist, I have to say, left wing identity politics is the bane of any possible progressive future. It turns the left against itself, makes itself impossible as a governing party for the majority of the society (still white people), and the long term consequences of a society where people constantly frets about their own identity (both imagined and real ones) is a society where division between groups is norm, and collective action on broad fronts become impossible, because everybody is guarding their own priviliges. Hopefully these leftists will go the same way the ABC-communists did in the 60s &70s, and eat their own children quick enough, so that something more constructive can get it’s time in the sun.

#13 Comment By Anthony M On July 12, 2018 @ 11:21 am

So this is just one more reason for me to love Sanders, really. He’s for a humane immigration policy contrary to Trump – not sure what’s not to like there. I’m a bit more “open borders” compared to Sanders but it’s not a terribly high priority issue for me (and most other young people) AS LONG AS we’re not violating international law, abusing people, etc.

I think outrage at how Trump has treated fellow human beings should be separate from the conversation about how many people we allow to enter the country… which there will always be disagreement on.

#14 Comment By b. On July 12, 2018 @ 11:28 am

“President Trump’s policy of separating children from their families was a disincentive for illegal immigrants to come here. We need every such disincentive we can devise. [..] We will need, along with our southern border, not a wall but something like the old East-West German border. Anyone who tries to cross dies.”

[30]

Unlike Alic, Lind at least has the courage of his convictions. Compare and contrast:

“The main point of contention was over allegations that the policy resulted in the separation of migrant children from their parents due to federal regulations that prevented youths from being housed in the same detention facilities as adults.”

“Sanders is not a revolutionary.”

Who knew? The author, apparently. Sanders is not exactly a reactionary either, and this insistence on siding with US workers’ (and voters’) employment concerns over “immigration for jobs” is entirely consistent with his focus on economic inequality over affirmative action – the denunciation of which by Clinton which might well have cost him the primaries.

I’d wager the difference between Sanders’ principles and the author’s positions is much larger than even the differences between Sanders and any actual socialist. It is intriguing though that the author sees a need to advertise Sanders’ positions to the TAC audience, and engineer a “rift” between him and that bugaboo the author calls “the Left”. Are we feeling the Bern yet?

#15 Comment By MM On July 12, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

TG: “We should stop calling these cheap-labor democrats ‘liberals’ as they are no such thing.”

So what would you call them?

Their party program is to promise everything to everyone, citizen or not. From a certain standpoint, that’s just vote-buying for dummies.

#16 Comment By sglover On July 12, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

connecticut farmer says:

What say all you revolutionaries out there!

I say you need to take your medication. The anti-fence/anti-lock coalition that’s giving you the heebie-jeebies exists only in your mind.

As for the original article, as is pretty typical for TAC second-stringers these days, it’s trying to present an internal factional as much more than it really is. Sure, there are Left politicians advocating the abolition of ICE. There are lots more advocating reform. There are still others more concerned with the broader issue of immigration reform. No broad consensus has shaken out yet. But right now it’s wish-thinking to imagine that this one issue is going to fracture an anti-Trump coalition.

#17 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 12, 2018 @ 1:06 pm

I’ve wondered which wrong hill the Democrats will pick to fight and die on this time, and I think I see it now.

#18 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 12, 2018 @ 1:29 pm

Tancred says: “I would love to ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez what she thought about fellow Hispanic Cesar Chavez’s stance on immigration. I doubt she would even know who Chavez is and if she did she would probably only know the mythological Hispanic nationalist version and not the real Cesar Chavez who supported defending the border and restricting immigration since he knew that importing immigrant labor would reduce the wages of his farm workers.”

Tancred: You’re right about Cesar Chavez. This little piece borrowed from Wikipedia: “The United Farm Workers Union during Chavez’s tenure was committed to restricting import of immigrant labor. Chavez and Dolores Huerta, cofounder and president of the UFW, fought the Bracero Program that existed from 1942 to 1964. Their opposition stemmed from their belief that the program undermined U.S. workers and exploited the migrant workers. Since the Bracero Program ensured a constant supply of cheap immigrant labor for growers, immigrants could not protest any infringement of their rights, lest they be fired and replaced.”

Here is a short video “The Cesar Chavez they don’t want you to know about” (2:28) that describes Chavez’ fight against illegal immigration:

[31]

Would someone please be so king as to share this video with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez? Thanks.

#19 Comment By EarlyBird On July 12, 2018 @ 1:49 pm

It’s almost as if the Democrats are politically suicidal. “Politically” in the sense of, you know, actually gaining electoral power for the purpose of legislation.

“Abolish ICE!”? Please. It’s as if Rush Limbaugh wrote that as a caricature of liberals.

#20 Comment By Mike S On July 12, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

TG–by calling them “cheap labor” democrats, whoever does the calling, is simply shifting the attention away from the real reason Dems are so against any kind of border enforcement. It is solely b/c they are beholden to both the identity politics of their current constituency and the potential future Dem voting bloc they see crossing the border illegally.

#21 Comment By paul gottfried On July 12, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

This author’s interpretation of Sanders’s position on immigration is correct but should take into account that Sanders is not a conventional multicultural leftist. He came out of the socialist far Left and held the view on immigration as a means of depressing the wages of the indigenous work force that was long common among Western European Communist parties. The American union movement was also critical of liberal immigration policies for the same reason.

#22 Comment By connecticut farmer On July 12, 2018 @ 4:33 pm

@sglover

“The anti-fence/anti-lock coalition that’s giving you the heebie-jeebies exists only in your mind.”

So did open borders.

#23 Comment By Thrice A Viking On July 12, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

Fred, how can cries to abolish the agency that tries to control immigration – with no stated plans to replace it – not be calls for open borders? You and others can say that you “know” that the two are quite different, but that may just mean that you are a captive of misleading leftist – or rightist? – propaganda. That, or you are being intentionally misleading yourself.

If you disagree with the above assessment, then please tell us how we can enforce immigration laws with no one to enforce them.

#24 Comment By Jochen F On July 12, 2018 @ 8:57 pm

Haha! You are in debt from second one when a new dollar is printed. You are in debt for life when starting higher education. You have too many lobbists, a practice that is illegal in Europe, pushing for s*** that’s bad for you. You have too many cretins having guns, and too many policemen shooting random people. You are too dependent on fossil fuels, and your solution for the future is just more military, more gulf wars. Really! And your problem is immigration? You are the only poor bastards in the developed world that pay X000$ for an ambulance ride, and the only ones that don’t have paid maternal/paternal leave for a year… and your problem is what Bernie once allegedly said. Well.. have fun with your immigration ‘problem’!

#25 Comment By JEinCA On July 13, 2018 @ 3:14 am

Bernie is correct on this one. He understands that you cannot raise the standard for working class Americans if you flood the nation with immigrants willing to work for less.

#26 Comment By Dan Green On July 13, 2018 @ 7:22 am

I would never vote for Bernies policies, but I admire the guy as he is honest and experienced with the swamp. With that said I like the idea his involvement shows what a bunch of hypocrites the Democratic elite are.

#27 Comment By LFM On July 13, 2018 @ 11:32 am

“Sanders has made clear that he identifies as a democratic-socialist which is very different from straight socialism where the people own the means of production. You can’t be taken seriously when you can’t make it through one sentence properly describing the man’s beliefs.”

Democratic socialists are called that because they do not demand a revolution and the seizure of all private property followed by a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” And no system has yet achieved the goal of giving the people ownership of the means of production, so whatever socialists of that kind may say they believe, they have proven to be singularly inept at following through on it.

#28 Comment By KD On July 13, 2018 @ 11:39 am

You can either be a socialist or an Ustashe for Quetzalcoatl. Bernie is just on the wrong side (who/whom) of the new “Bleeding Heart” Liberals.

#29 Comment By MM On July 13, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

JEinCA: Both the environmental movement as well as organized labor, as recently as the 1990s, were also critics of both too much legal immigration as well as unregulated immigration by non-citizens.

So what happened? Political expediency?

#30 Comment By sglover On July 13, 2018 @ 3:59 pm

So did open borders.

Yeah, I’ll think about those “open borders” the next time I wait in passport control after a trip overseas.

Like I said before, you really need to take your meds.

#31 Comment By Nelson On July 13, 2018 @ 9:46 pm

Immigrants: The Right’s Scapegoat. Whatever you may think, the poor migrant workers are not the cause of our problems. If anything they’re only trying to make their lives better instead of complaining all the time.

#32 Comment By Richard Wagner On July 14, 2018 @ 11:50 am

@rhine gold cowboy If you mean “Anti-illegal-immigration, Trump voting Bernie Bro” then I’m with you. But I welcome LEGAL immigrants.

#33 Comment By Will W. On July 14, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

Is it a thought-crime to mention that we have quite a bit of childhood poverty, a fairly high public school failure rate already, and more than adequate (brown on black) racism in this country without welcoming more of each over the Southern border? The Democratic elite must want to keep wages low, too

#34 Comment By Will W. On July 14, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

Is it a thought-crime to note that we have quite a bit of childhood poverty, a fairly high public school failure rate already, and more than adequate (brown on black) racism in this country without welcoming more of each over the Southern border? The Democratic elite must want to keep wages low, too.

#35 Comment By VikingLS On July 14, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

“Immigrants: The Right’s Scapegoat. Whatever you may think, the poor migrant workers are not the cause of our problems.”

So Bernie Sanders is a man of the right now?

“If anything they’re only trying to make their lives better instead of complaining all the time.”

So the ones marching under Mexican flags against us enforcing immigration laws aren’t complaining? Wouldn’t know it from looking.

#36 Comment By Oleg Gark On July 15, 2018 @ 10:12 am

The Democrats are going to be forced to choose between Open Immigration and Universal Healthcare since the two goals are not compatible with each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the Democratic elite is pushing the Immigration issue right now in order to lessen the influence of Bernie & Company and their calls for Universal Healthcare. However, a Democratic party at war with itself is not going to roll over the Republicans come election time.

#37 Comment By Oleg Gark On July 15, 2018 @ 10:22 am

One other thought on this – if the US has an economic downturn (always possible) prior to the mid-term or 2020 elections, the pro-Immigration people can go home. They’ll be selling something that nobody’s buying.

#38 Comment By Mike Garrett On July 17, 2018 @ 2:52 am

Bernie Sanders

Born: September 8, 1941 (age 76), New York City, U.S.

Bernie turns 76 in September. Ronald Reagan was the older person ever sworn in as President, and he clearly had senility problems by the time he left office. I am 71, and my mind and memory may well function smoothly into my 80s, like several of my ancestors, but I have not eaten hundreds of beef dinners at political fund raisers. If Bernie won in 2020, he will have recently turned 79, and he would be 83 when finishing his first term. This is so unlikely that it is positively silly to take him seriously as a candidate.

#39 Comment By Starrose On July 23, 2018 @ 10:32 am

You cannot claim to care about protecting our environment while endorsing out of control illegal immigration that causes urban sprawl, habitat destruction, higher consumption, pollution and overpopulation. They two issues are not compatible. Democrats can’t have it both ways.