Cultural Identity, Mass Migration, and the Far Right

The fine line between xenophobia and patriotism.

In his lastest Substack post, Andrew Sullivan purports to explain “How Elites Have Empowered The Far Right.”

Not so long ago, as many of us reeled from the political earthquakes of Brexit and Trump, it seemed sensible for responsible mainstream political parties to adopt tighter immigration control to keep the populist right at bay. Mass migration in Europe had led to a far-right resurgence; in the US and UK, Trump and the Johnson-era Tories seemed to grasp this and moved to co-opt the anti-immigrant fervor. Democracy was working to accommodate a shift in the public mood.

Or so it seemed. Nearly a decade later, something else has happened: an immigration explosion. In response to a volatile public mood, Western elites actually intensified their policy of importing millions of people from the developing world to replace their insufficiently diverse and declining domestic populations.

The recent figures from the US, UK and Canada are mind-blowing. The graphs all look like a hockey stick, with a massive spike in the last three years alone. Under Trump, the average number of illegal crossings a year was around 500,000; under Biden, that has quadrupled to two million a year — from a much more diverse group, from Africa, China and India. To add insult to injury, Biden has also all but shut down immigration enforcement in the interior; and abused his parole power to usher in nearly 1.3 million illegal migrants in 2023 alone. The number of undetained illegal migrants living in the US has thereby ballooned under Biden: from 3.7 million in 2021 to 6.2 million in 2023, according to ICE. If a fraction of those millions turns up for asylum hearings, I’ll be gob-smacked.

Canada has seen something similar. For much of the 21st century, Canada had around 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants a year; but in the last two years, this has nearly doubled. In Britain, the same story. In 2015, the year before Brexit, net migration (the numbers of people immigrating minus the number emigrating) was 329,000; in the last two years, it has more than doubled to over 700,000. And whereas most immigration before Brexit was from the EU, today, immigrants from the developing world outnumber European immigrants by almost 10 to 1. For those Brits who voted for Brexit to lower the number of foreigners in the country, it’s been surreal.

If you want to understand why Biden keeps trailing in the swing states, why the Tories are about to be wiped out in a historic collapse, and why Trudeau is at all-time low in approval at 28 percent, this seems to me to be key. As the public tried to express a desire to slow down the pace of demographic change, elites in London, Ottawa, and Washington chose to massively accelerate it. It’s as if they saw the rise in the popularity of the far right and said to themselves: well now, how can we really get it to take off?

This issue is one where I’m less conservative than Sullivan but considerably more so than our commentariat. While Sullivan is by no means anti-immigrant, he’s somewhat more worried than I am about the shifting of cultures. And he’s certainly right that this issue is a key factor in the rise of right-wing populism across the West.

This week, CNN ran a poll on Biden and immigration. Here’s what they found: in May 2020, only one percent of Americans put immigration as their top concern — in 15th place among issues; in May 2024, 18 percent put it first. In 2020, Biden edged Trump by one percent on who was best to tackle the border crisis; four years later, Trump is ahead on the issue by 27 points. As a coup de grace, CNN also found that foreign-born Americans preferred Trump to Biden on immigration by 47 to 44 percent. Turns out that this immigrant’s worries are widely shared by my fellow new Americans.

Of course, a single poll is meaningless. But there has been plenty of polling—and, indeed, quite a number of actual elections—over the years demonstrating a backlash against migration. And, it must be acknowledged, particularly nonwhite and unskilled migration.

Europeans will be voting this weekend for the toothless European Parliament, essentially a performative exercise that nonetheless tells us something about where the continent is heading after wave after wave of migration. And guess what? The far right is expected to do much better than in the past and, in the latest polls, may even gain more seats than the center-right coalition in the EU parliament.

In Britain this week, there was another seismic shock. Nigel Farage, the Brexit pioneer, unexpectedly reversed course to say he would run for parliament in the election next month, as part of the Reform Party (an evolution of the Brexit Party). In the polls, Farage’s party — which backed the Tories in 2019 — is now creeping closer and closer to them, just as the far right is beginning to eclipse the center right in Europe as a whole.

A ten-day rolling average puts Reform at 11.4 percent and the Tories at 23.7 percent. But a poll taken after Farage declared this week put the Tories at 19 percent and Reform at 17 percent. In other words, the great Tory achievement — coopting and moderating the far right — has collapsed, because of the Tory betrayal on immigration. It could reduce the Tories from 365 seats to 66. The lowest number of seats won by the Tories since 1918 is 165, in 1997. This will be Boris Johnson’s legacy: the near destruction of his own party in the pursuit of replacing Britain’s native population at a pace never before seen in British history. There is even a chance the Tories could come third in the popular vote.

[…]

Does Labour’s looming landslide mean that mass immigration has become popular? One way to answer that is to hear what Keir Starmer, the next prime minister, said about the subject in the first televised debate this week:

The levels of migration are at record highs. … It’s never been that high, save in the last year or two. The prime minister says it’s too high. Well, who’s in charge? He’s the most liberal prime minister we’ve ever had on immigration. We’ve never had numbers like this before … This year alone, 10,000 people have crossed on boats. That’s a record number.

When a Labour party leader is accusing the Tory prime minister of being “the most liberal” in British history — just eight years after Brexit — you can see how profoundly the politics of immigration have shifted. 

While I’m quite familiar with Farange, I’m much less so with Starmer. So, I don’t know whether this is a genuine stance or pure opportunistic pandering. Regardless, it is indeed quite the switch.

Or you can just look at the polls in the US: 51 percent of Americans now support mass deportations of the kind Trump is proposing; including 42 percent of Democrats, and 45 percent of Hispanics. That was unthinkable four years ago — and it’s entirely on Biden. The revolt against this basic failure of governance is now strong even in big cities, run by Democrats, and among non-whites, who are moving toward Trump.

Joe Biden’s main campaign theme seems to be that he alone can defend liberal democracy from Donald Trump. What Biden has never understood is that restricting immigration is absolutely critical to defending liberal democracy. Everything else is just words, condescending words. If Trump triumphs in November, Biden will be responsible for simply ignoring basic political reality, alienating the very people he needs.

The “non-whites . . . moving toward Trump” thing is vastly oversold, but could nonetheless be significant if the election is razor-thin. And the overlap of “mass deportations of the kind Trump is proposing” with liberal democracy approaches zero, given the draconian measures that would be necessary to actually implement the policy.

Regardless, this does seem to be an issue where Western publics, seemingly across the board, are increasingly frustrated with the status quo. Neither Trump nor Fox News nor Nixon’s Southern Strategy can explain the rise of far-right parties in Western Europe.

Sullivan issues the required caveats:

I guess it’s worth reiterating at this point that I’m not anti-immigration. It remains the lifeblood of America, and immigration is vital for our future fiscal balance. I’m a proud immigrant myself — and America will always be able to integrate newcomers in ways European countries simply cannot. But, like a huge majority of Americans, I’m in favor of legal, orderly, controlled immigration — and not the chaos we now see everywhere in the West. This is not racism or xenophobia; it’s a recognition that borders and the rule of law matter; and that without secure borders, we risk losing the core reality of a nation-state; and without a better-paced influx, we risk delegitimizing immigration altogether, and balkanizing our societies.

While, again, I’m much closer to Sullivan on this than most of my commentators, I do think he underplays the racial aspect of this. The reaction would doubtless be less visceral were the problem Canadians and Brits overstaying their visas rather than a mass migration of brown-skinned folks from Latin America.

But he’s also right that at the core of the nation-state is the idea that there are borders in which those inside are Us and those outside Them. For that to be meaningful, states have to be able to control who gets to enter and remain. We have lost that ability, with the impact falling disproportionally on a handful of border states.

We need a new paradigm: all the investments in immigration security (yes, more wall), courts, judges, asylum officers, and detention centers that Biden says he wants; and a viable mass deportation program that Trump says he wants for those who broke the law so flagrantly these past three years.

Frankly, I’m skeptical that the problem is solvable. Our border is just too large to effectively police and the fact that we’re so much wealthier and more stable than just about every country south of said border makes us a veritable magnet for migration.

Walls are obstacles and obstacles unsupported by fire are easily bypassed. And, needless to say, shooting desperate people seeking to enter the country illegally is monstrous—a solution far worse than the problem.

As noted previously, mass deportation in practice would be horrendous. We would essentially be sending armed agents to harass everyone who looked Hispanic, demanding that they produce papers proving they have a right to be here. And, of course, their US-born children are American citizens and not subject to deportation; are we really going to take them from their families or force them from the country?

Trump, of course, was a lot of hat and not much cattle in his first four years on this topic; but Biden, having made everything far, far worse, has less than zero credibility on reform.

All that means, it seems to me, is that if you care about the issue at all, as more and more Americans do, then Trump is the obvious choice this fall. Which is one reason I fear the election result will not be as close as most people think. Our elites have had almost a decade to respond to the public mood and a new global reality. And they still don’t get it.

What’s bizarre about this close is that Sullivan has banged the drum about how awful Trump is for at least as long as I have. But here he seems to be endorsing him.

He’s right, though, that the elite class has been late to the party on this issue. It has always been the case that the upper classes are more cosmopolitan, for good and ill. The nobility and landed gentry of Old Europe had much more in common with their cousins (often, quite literally) in other countries than they did with their own hoi polloi. In the modern age, where money has largely supplanted station, the ultra-rich either deal with immigrants who are much like them—extremely successful and well-educated—or who serve them.

It’s likewise true that the Left, generally speaking, sees pride in one’s own nation and culture as xenophobic, if not racist, whereas the Right sees it as patriotism and a core function of society and government.

But, of course, what we’re seeing from the far-right “populist” movements here and elsewhere is much more like the leftist critique than the conservative idea. This is not inevitable. I’ll once again cite this exchange between Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980 Republican primary debates:

Sullivan would note that the scope of the problem has changed. But it would regardless be refreshing to approach it with that level of humanity.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Race and Politics, Society, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Well, James, here’s one commenter who is with you on this.

    The Left is not only wrong as regards the majority of Americans, they’re wrong as regards the opinions of Hispanics who seem entirely unmoved by progressive breast-beating over our treatment of illegal immigrants. People who came here ten years ago from Random Central American horror show, are not leaping to support more immigration from Random Central American horror show.

    The only way to defend legal immigration is to get a handle on illegal immigration. Open Borders people are idiots of the self-defeating variety. We need immigration, we profit from immigration, but our inability to manage illegal immigration means we are likely to end up slamming all doors shut. Machine guns on the border are no longer unthinkable, they’re damn near inevitable. If Trump is elected we’ll be shooting illegals within two years. If he loses, it’ll be closer to ten years.

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  2. DK says:

    While Sullivan is by no means anti-immigrant

    I don’t buy it. Andrew Sullivan spent the 90s insisting blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.

    It’s pretty embarrassing that he is still taken seriously.

    Dude admitted to being surprised about the results of the 2022 midterms, in which he endorsed the Republican line, and here he is less than 2 years later peddling the same dumb “non-whites moving to Trump” and “it wint be close” bs.

    High on his own supply.

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  3. Slugger says:

    What is the actual impact of immigration on American society? For example, did the Chinese Exclusion Act which was in effect from 1882 to 1952 benefit or hurt? We had the Mariel boat lift in 1980 consisting of people who were deliberately selected by the Castro regime to be troublemakers. What are their grandchildren doing these days? Did turning away the MS St. Louis benefit our country? I have ridden in cabs driven by Haitians several times-good or bad? We should seek real data.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Slugger:

    What are their grandchildren doing these days?

    Voting for Trump.

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:
  6. DK says:

    @Slugger:

    What is the actual impact of immigration on American society?

    Economic growth where you would otherwise see stagnation in our nation of flagging birth rates.

    Hence why the politicians who scream loudest about the so-called border crisis are not doing anything about it.

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  7. That Sullivan is getting Trumpier does not surprise me.

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  8. The reaction would doubtless be less visceral were the problem Canadians and Brits overstaying their visas rather than a mass migration of brown-skinned folks from Latin America.

    On the one hand, I agree.

    On the other, I can’t help but think about “Irish need not apply” and the general history of anti-immigrant waves we have seen in the US.

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  9. mattbernius says:

    Thanks for trying to bring an evenhanded approach to Sullivan’s hair-on-fire analysis James.

    I clicked through to the WaPo article that Sullivan pulled the following passage from:

    Under Trump, the average number of illegal crossings a year was around 500,000; under Biden, that has quadrupled to two million a year — from a much more diverse group, from Africa, China and India. To add insult to injury, Biden has also all but shut down immigration enforcement in the interior; and abused his parole power to usher in nearly 1.3 million illegal migrants in 2023 alone. The number of undetained illegal migrants living in the US has thereby ballooned under Biden: from 3.7 million in 2021 to 6.2 million in 2023, according to ICE.

    The article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/2024/02/11/trump-biden-immigration-border-compared/) paints a far more nuanced picture. First, under Biden deportations, returns, and expulsions did increase significantly (scaling to the rise in crossings):

    Trump implemented the Title 42 policy at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 to rapidly expel border crossers without giving them a chance to seek U.S. protection. The Trump administration expelled the vast majority who entered the United States and border crossings remained relatively low.

    Biden kept the policy in place and ended up expelling five times more border-crossers than Trump did, mainly because more migrants attempted to enter the United States during the period between Biden’s inauguration and May 2023 when he ended Title 42.

    BTW, it should be noted that the 3.7 million total undocumented migrants in 2021 was artificially low because of the low number of crossings in 2020 due to C19 (an example of C19 benefitting Trump’s record for once).

    Likewise, Biden shifted enforcement policies to focus on public safety first and foremost (versus Trump’s shotgun approach):

    Biden’s Department of Homeland Security issued new guidelines to ICE officers in 2021 directing them to prioritize national security threats, serious or violent criminals and recent border-crossers. Worksite enforcement — “raids” — were halted.

    Deportations of migrants arrested by ICE have fallen to about 35,000 per year since Biden took office. Biden officials say they’re doing a better job targeting criminals who pose a threat to public safety, instead of detaining otherwise law-abiding immigrant workers.

    BTW, the Biden approach follows the recommendations of most public safety and public health experts who emphasize the importance of trying not to ostracize undocumented communities. Driving those communities even more underground can create much more significant public health and safety issues in the long run.

    There’s some additional nuance added to the use of parole and the increase in folks being granted refugee status (which still lags far below the legal limits). Ultimately, the biggest problem is the continued underfunding of Immigration Courts (which, until adequately funded, will be the key issue).

    BTW, Sullivan as usual, doesn’t do the work when it comes to questioning his personal beliefs. So he caps the paragraph off on Biden with this whopper:

    If a fraction of those millions turns up for asylum hearings, I’ll be gob-smacked.

    Actually, multiple multi-decade studies have shown that most undocument folks do, in fact, show up for immigration court.

    * 83% of nondetained immigrants with completed or pending removal cases attended all their hearings from 2008 to 2018.
    * 96% of nondetained immigrants represented by a lawyer attended all of their hearings from 2008 to 2018.

    Source: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/measuring-absentia-removal-immigration-court

    For additional background on that topic see also: https://www.vera.org/publications/immigrant-court-appearance-fact-sheet

    This issue is one where I’m less conservative than Sullivan but considerably more so than our commentariat. While Sullivan is by no means anti-immigrant, he’s somewhat more worried than I am about the shifting of cultures….

    While, again, I’m much closer to Sullivan on this than most of my commentators, I do think he underplays the racial aspect of this. The reaction would doubtless be less visceral were the problem Canadians and Brits overstaying their visas rather than a mass migration of brown-skinned folks from Latin America.

    These are both correct and deeply tied together. Sullivan, given his tendency towards protecting what he thinks is “proper culture” and scientific racism, is making a “protect Western Civilization from undesirables from the global South.”

    What’s bizarre about this close is that Sullivan has banged the drum about how awful Trump is for at least as long as I have. But here he seems to be endorsing him.

    Sullivan has always had an authoritarian side to him, provided the guns are pointed at the right people. BTW, the WaPo points out that Trump’s first term policies never approached the level of his promises:

    Trump had promised to deport “millions” of immigrants during his term but fell well short of that goal, despite giving ICE officers broad latitude to go after anyone without legal status in the United States. Deportations of migrants arrested by ICE averaged about 80,000 annually during Trump’s term.

    There’s one thing I want to call out:

    He’s right, though, that the elite class has been late to the party on this issue.

    Is he, though? Or rather, who do you consider elites? There have been multiple attempts to address the border issue going back to at least GWB (when I really began to closely pay attention to politics) and every effort has gotten scuttled (if memory serves correctly by infighting within the Republican party in most cases). Even when President Trump was in office with a majority in the Senate and the House, he wasn’t able to accomplish any serious reform (in part because of the obsession with building a wall versus taking actions that would actually have a material impact on the problem).

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It’s rather wild for a guy who championed Obama as early as 2007. In a recent interview, for example, he seemingly endorses Trump:

    There are plenty of reasons, policy-wise, why I’d be happier with a Trump administration than a Biden one. There’s immigration, which I think the Democrats have completely screwed up. The numbers of people coming over are extraordinary at this point. And I think if he got a majority in the House and the Senate, he could easily pass immigration reform, and this time, unlike in 2016, he won’t be bamboozled by people like Paul Ryan into thinking that the most important thing is a tax cut for the super-wealthy.

    I also think that regarding the wokeness stuff, even though I really find Trump horrid on so many levels, if he’s the only thing that can stop this stuff from being imposed across the country and across the United States Government, then you can see why I might prefer him over Biden, who is giving in to woke at every level. The federal government is involved in systematic DEI: in all of its capacities it now has putting equity at the heart of everything as a policy. He would remove that and there would be support for ending DEI in corporate America and in universities. He’s clearly taken out a position — even if he’s not interested in that stuff, he’ll find someone who is. And that’s a huge thing for the base. It would happen, I think.

    In between stuff like this:

    The entire constitution of the United States is based upon the rule of law. The rule of law has to be applied and be seen to be applied, as far as possible, equally. He has openly stated that the President should be above and outside the law. If he is convicted of crimes, some of which are quite serious with respect to his political position, he doesn’t care. He will seek to be re-elected to overturn the rule of law with respect to himself. In other words, we will have an election in which he will say: it’s me, or it’s the rule of law.

    and finally gets to this:

    FS: By your account, it’s sounding pretty good so far! What’s not to like about Trump II?

    AS: The end of the rule of law and the end of the American Constitution, which are far, far more important.

    and this:

    FS: It feels your heart and head are pointing in different directions. I asked about all the policy areas and you’re basically on board. But there’s this one principle, which you believe is most fundamental, which is that he doesn’t respect constitutional process.

    AS: But that is the core question. In our democracies, policies come and go. All sorts of things change. All sorts of governments get things wrong. But the constitutional process allows us to change government to sustain a pluralistic democracy, to have a system where everyone respects the rule of law. Those things are what ultimately matter in a society.

    So, unlike us, he actually prefers most of Trump’s policies to Biden’s. But, like us, he thinks the fundamental and overriding issue is that Trump has no respect for the law or our institutions.

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    By the end of the century, there will be a couple billion climate refugees, many of them not even born yet. It seems to me very unlikely that the developed, temperate parts of the world are going to quietly assimilate them.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: The Democratic Establishment—and, indeed, much of the old business-oriented Republican Establishment—never really saw illegal immigration as a problem, albeit for different reasons. The see the macro-level benefits while experiencing none of the friction.

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  13. Kevin says:

    While I’m sure some of this is racism, I wonder how much the housing crisis contributes as well. If people didn’t feel like there isn’t enough room for everyone who’s here now, would they be more welcoming to new people? Or at least indifferent. Same thing with the lack of rural development/opportunity; if people didn’t see their children moving away while people who are vastly different from them move in, would they be as upset?

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  14. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The Left is not only wrong as regards the majority of Americans, they’re wrong as regards the opinions of Hispanics who seem entirely unmoved by progressive breast-beating over our treatment of illegal immigrants. People who came here ten years ago from Random Central American horror show, are not leaping to support more immigration from Random Central American horror show.

    Both the left and the right tend to get “Hispanics” wrong in so much we keep talking about them as a unified block. Basically treat them as Black (and more accurately, descendants of Slaves and Black immigrants from the first half of the 20th century). Hispanics, Chicanos, Latino/a/x, and others are ethnic groups versus racial categories and we don’t have a good mental mindset for that.

    I need to go through my records to pull the most recent polling, but generally speaking “People who came here ten years ago from Random Central American horror show” favor better treatment of current undocumented folks (assuming they were also undocumented at first) and paths to citzenship. The numbers go higher if we are looking at people coming from more dark-skinned and indigenous ethnic groups (colorism is very much a thing in those communities too).

    People who claim more Spanish descent and have been in the US for more than a generation tend to often move more conservative. In part they also often identify as more White.

    That tension has been part of the community for a long time–going back to at least when Cesar Chavez made the decision to consciously exclude undocumented folks from unionization efforts (see: https://www.kut.org/texasstandard/2022-10-17/cesar-chavez-complicated-legacy-united-farm-workers-immigration).

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    On the other, I can’t help but think about “Irish need not apply” and the general history of anti-immigrant waves we have seen in the US.

    Ditto Italians–which again gets us to the idea that “Whiteness” (a broad cultural acceptance and easier access to power versus simply a skin color) has always been a moving social category.

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  15. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    It’s rather wild for a guy who championed Obama as early as 2007.

    One needs to remember how much Sullivan had, like many conservatives, soured on George W. Bush. I think he also saw Obama (correctly) as a technocratic centrist (which is his catnip).

    Honestly, I think Obama’s historic role as the first Black President also spoke to Sullivan.

    Sullivan has a complex and problematic relationship with race (at least as we think about it in the US) that he seems completely uninterested in exploring. Hence his tendency to uncritically side with the “Western Culture must be defended at all costs” and “scientific” branches of racism.

    @James Joyner:

    The Democratic Establishment—and, indeed, much of the old business-oriented Republican Establishment—never really saw illegal immigration as a problem, albeit for different reasons.

    Fair. Which, when combined with the issues of our political system and growing polarization, is a recipe for nothing happening.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @DK:

    I don’t buy it. Andrew Sullivan spent the 90s insisting blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.

    It’s pretty embarrassing that he is still taken seriously.

    I’m not embarrassed.

    Also, wasn’t it “blacks are genetically inferior but have massive beautiful schlongs”? The dude is seriously fucked up. Is there any conservative queer (conservaqueer?) who isn’t?

    I know it can be a mistake to dismiss the message because of the messenger, but when the message is pushed mostly by messengers who have a solid track record of complete idiocy, racism and fetishism, it’s not worth bothering with.

    Convince a few decent people first, and then cite them to try to reduce the white supremacist wishcasting in the “analysis.”

    And here, once you strip away the white supremacist wishcasting, you end up with “immigration is a problem.” Sullivan doesn’t bring anything interesting to the table.

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  17. Gustopher says:

    Ol’ Doc Joyner scribbled:

    Frankly, I’m skeptical that the problem is solvable. Our border is just too large to effectively police and the fact that we’re so much wealthier and more stable than just about every country south of said border makes us a veritable magnet for migration.

    It’s not solvable in six months with three easy steps, but the direction of a solution is right there in your statement: “ the fact that we’re so much wealthier and more stable than just about every country south of said border makes us a veritable magnet for migration.”

    Being extremely mindful of the fact that America’s “help” Chas a long history of being very unhelpful, it’s in our interest to have a stronger, more economically vibrant Latin America.*

    In fact, I would put that as one of our most important and pressing foreign policy problems, somewhere up there with Russia and China — less chance of a sudden flare up that massively hurts us in a short period, but ultimately as much of an existential threat (and partly that would be a self-inflicted existential threat).

    We need to help bring down the cartels and get local law enforcement functioning. We need to get jobs there. We need to be ready to provide food aid (there have been waves of refugees responding to crop failures, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue). And no coups, no matter how much we want to.

    Maybe one coup, as a treat, if we are well behaved.

    *: an alternate solution would be to reduce America’s stability and growth to a Latin-American fail-state, so no one wants to come here. Not a great solution, but presented here for completeness.

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @mattbernius:

    Basically treat them as Black (and more accurately, descendants of Slaves and Black immigrants from the first half of the 20th century). Hispanics, Chicanos, Latino/a/x, and others are ethnic groups versus racial categories and we don’t have a good mental mindset for that.

    It’s the social justice version of fighting the last war. We won WW2, and we won (well. . .) the battle for Black civil rights. The Right thinks every war is WW2, the Left think every fight is the Edmund Pettus bridge. The civil rights paradigm gets applied to women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, and it’s not helpful, because the Black experience of life in the US is not remotely like the experience of women, or gays, or trans people. Amusing, I suppose, that the same class of people who rail against cultural appropriation when it comes to tortillas or the Blues, has no hesitation about pasting the Black experience onto every new cause.

    It’s more Civil War than WW2 or civil rights. One side is fighting against their own economic interests because they’ve allowed demagogues to manipulate them. The other side, with all the advantages of education, wealth and potential numbers, keeps losing because our generals are incompetent.

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  19. DK says:

    @mattbernius:

    Honestly, I think Obama’s historic role as the first Black President also spoke to Sullivan.

    What also charmed Sullivan and others like him in 2007 was Obama speaking in a soothing voice and dulcet tones about a “post-racial” society. The idea that race and ethnicity are irrelevant and best handled by ignoring and airbrushing away is a favorite canard of problematic people. Candidate Obama’s buy-in to this wishful thinking is why many who proved themselves inordinately prejudiced before and after Obama latched onto him, especially in ’08.

    It’s also why black voters were resistant to Obama til he prevailed in Iowa over Hillary — they/we were wary of Obama romancing white America with feelgood promises he could not keep.

    And it’s why — among other contributing factors — the backlash to Obama was so furious when, inevitably, it turned out scolding mother Rodham was right, yet again: Obama wasn’t The Magic Mulatto and had no magic wand to cure our racial ailments (or deliver perfect healthcare or tame American militarism, etc.).

    We get mad when mugged by reality.

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  20. Gustopher says:

    Also Doc Joyner:

    The reaction would doubtless be less visceral were the problem Canadians and Brits overstaying their visas rather than a mass migration of brown-skinned folks from Latin America.

    I used to think that we would solve the looming “America is now majority non-white” “problem” by redefining Whiteness to just accept Latinos, as they are basically Spanish which is European. It seems straightforward.

    But I really underestimated the number of indigenous in Latin America itself — so many of these refugees are of indigenous descent, driven out of their home countries by Off-White Supremacist policies that favor people of Spanish descent and persecute indigenous populations.

    I just thought the Spanish were as thorough exterminating their indigenous populations as we were. I guess they just didn’t have that Protestant Work Ethic.

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  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    We need to help bring down the cartels and get local law enforcement functioning. We need to get jobs there. We need to be ready to provide food aid (there have been waves of refugees responding to crop failures, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue). And no coups, no matter how much we want to.

    Well, if we’re fantasizing, let’s ask for flying cars. Take a single country: Haiti. Tell me what the US can do to get law enforcement and jobs in Haiti. Haiti has no industry, no resources, and an uneducated population with no marketable skills, and no history of decent self-government. We can ship them free food, which will be promptly stolen by the gangs, then used to control the population. Unless you’ve got a better plan up your sleeve, that is literally all we can do for Haiti, short of occupying the country.

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  22. James Joyner says:

    @Slugger: @Kevin: What Sullivan gets right and the “elites” miss is the huge cultural aspect. It’s not *just* a concern about jobs but about “my country not looking like my country anymore.” Some of that is racism. But it’s about more than that. Many Latinos are White, after all. But people get out of joint when folks speak foreign languages and adopt foreign modes of dress, especially en masse, in “their” country.

    @Gustopher: I think the Spanish assimilated the local population by intermixing with them rather than segregating them. The Brits sent families, which created an incentive to protect their women and children. The Spanish mostly sent soldiers and priests, which created an incentive to breed with the local women.

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  23. Matt Bernius says:

    @DK:

    What also charmed Sullivan and others like him in 2007 was Obama speaking in a soothing voice and dulcet tones about a “post-racial” society.

    REALLY ASTUTE POINT–100% agree.

    It’s also why black voters were resistant to Obama until he prevailed in Iowa over Hillary — they were wary of Obama romancing white America with feelgood promises they knew could not keep.

    I recently got to listen in to a number of black folks candidly discussing Obama’s presidency and this specific point came up. There’s a LOT to be said about his relationship with the broader black community and I wish more folks got the unique opportunity to listen that I did.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The civil rights paradigm gets applied to women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, and it’s not helpful, because the Black experience of life in the US is not remotely like the experience of women, or gays, or trans people.

    My take on this is that it’s a bit of a yes-and-no thing. I think these are far closer than you are suggesting, particularly the experience of women. And partially, that’s because their questions for equal rights were also very tied up within the broader civil rights movement (as Black men and Women played major roles in both movements, which were happening in parallel).

    What happened with women’s rights is that once key rights were legislatively achieved (voting and equal protections in the workplace) the movement fractured because (to your point, gender and race are two different things).

    I think that’s generally true about the Gay experience as well (meant here has people who are homosexual or lesbian… in other words just LG). From the underground years to Stonewall to Ogerfeld that was a relatively united movement (again restricting it to LG). Once Ogerfeld was achieved, some of the cohesion has increasingly become fractured (though there are still some key unifying issues).

    Where the issue comes in is when people assume that LGBTQ is an overarching group. Sullivan’s a perfect example. He’s laser-focused on Gay rights (and the L can be included in there), and fuck the BTQ in his perspective. And he’s not alone in that respect. Their fight is not his fight.

    So to some degree this is about shared struggle at it’s core, which gets to:

    the Black experience of life in the US

    Speaking of shared struggle, in my original post I included the following caveat:

    Black (and more accurately, descendants of Slaves and Black immigrants from the first half of the 20th century)

    For the past year I’ve been working with young Black adults in the Memphis area on a community research project. Memphis/Shelby County also has a lot of refugee settlers from African nations. One of the things that was very clear from that research is those settlers (despite the common skin color) do not see themselves as “Black” and in many cases take active steps to distance themselves from the broader “native-born” Black community. Again they see themselves in a fundamentally different struggle.

    That is a trend that is going to be interesting to watch over the coming decades.

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  24. Jen says:

    I have a reflexively negative reaction to any “immigrants dilute our culture” posturing. It’s absurd for a nation of immigrants to make this argument.

    I’d like to see a robust guest worker program, well-funded and supported. My hunch is that illegal crossings would drop like a rock if we were able to figure this out.

    People are coming here to escape poverty and political persecution. It’s only going to increase as climate migration becomes a more regular thing. We need to get this figured out, ASAP.

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  25. DK says:

    @Gustopher:

    The dude is seriously fucked up. Is there any conservative queer (conservaqueer?) who isn’t?

    Tim Miller is cool. I also know a few in real life who aren’t totally insufferable — or at least aren’t significantly more screwed up than the rest of us.

    Was the medical device salesman I dated in 2016 crazy for supporting Trump while having sex with and whispering sweet nothings to his black boyfriend? Or was I crazy for dating him while volunteering for Hillary? Both?

    My beef with the conservagays is their constant, tedious ‘I’m not like the other girls’ banging on. They swear they’re edgy, independent-thinking unicorns and martyrs.

    It’s like, yes, dude, you’re vastly outnumbered by Alphabet People with political self-respect. But y’all are easily found: at any glory hole; every masc 4 masc comments section complaining about speedos at Pride; and behind Grindr profiles with blank pics or tagged “discreet.” You ain’t special bro. Calm down.

    Someday I’ll writeup how Milo Yiannopoulos asked me on a date. That was a hoot. Yuck!

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  26. James Joyner says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    refugee settlers from African nations . . . . do not see themselves as “Black” and in many cases take active steps to distance themselves from the broader “native-born” Black community.

    And vice-versa. Indeed, there was/is a significant contingent that didn’t view Obama, who was not only multi-racial but whose father was Kenyan and who didn’t grow up here, as one of them.

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  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Matt Bernius:
    Blacks are 13% of the population, with a vote made even less effective by concentration and gerrymandering.

    Women are 51% of the population, they are equally distributed everywhere, and cannot be gerrymandered.

    Women can have whatever they want, whenever they want it, if they can unite. Big ‘if’.

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  28. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    He’s laser-focused on Gay rights (and the L can be included in there), and fuck the BTQ in his perspective.

    He’s also apparently dumb enough to think that once the BTQ is eliminated, he won’t immediately be next on the chopping block.

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Take a single country: Haiti. Tell me what the US can do to get law enforcement and jobs in Haiti.

    Do we need to get all of Latin America (which wouldn’t include Haiti, as the Caribbean is very distinct) up to American standards of living? No. We need to get enough of it up to decent standards that people fleeing a fail-state have other places they can stop. And maybe get some of the failing states to fail less dramatically.

    Haiti (and a few of the actual Latin American countries) are beyond help without a coup and an autocrat to impose order — preferably an elderly autocrat with vague goals of transitioning to a democracy rather than setting up a dynasty, but if autocracy provides food and security, it’s better than chaos. But let’s ignore the Haitis.

    It’s a mistake to assume that all of Latin America is half of a Caribbean island with no functioning government.

    We need Mexico to be strong enough that a more refugees will stop there (Mexico has improved enough that there are far fewer coming from Mexico). That would be a good first step, and they have a functional government. Less worse Honduras to stem some of the flood of refugees.

    And that is enough to buffer the US from waves of refugees, and the right wing authoritarian backlash that comes from chaos (where chaos is defined as “too many brown people”)

    Improving Latin America’s prospects isn’t a pipe dream. Turning it into Canada with spicy food within 20 years likely is.

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  30. SenyorDave says:

    @Stormy Dragon: He may be many things, but he isn’t dumb. I think he is well aware of that possibility, but he figures he has money and security and it won’t affect him.
    He helped lead the push against any type of national health insurance, but of course I’m sure he had great private insurance. Ultimately all of his policy ideas and considerations can be boiled down to: Sullivan cares about Sullivan.

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  31. just nutha says:

    @SenyorDave: Don’t leave out those who are Sullivan-adjacent. He may care about a small circle of friends and acquaintances.

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  32. JKB says:

    James, you really need to keep up. Near southern border nationals are now less than half those crossing into the US. The big influx under Biden is from Africa, India, China, etc. A flight from Africa into Mexico City is around $1000, then $5000 to a cartel to cross into the US. The “brown people” attack point is weakening.

    An NBC News analysis of newly released data from the Department of Homeland Security shows a fundamental shift. Before the pandemic, roughly 9 in 10 migrants crossing the border illegally (that is, between ports of entry) came from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the four countries closest to the border. Those countries no longer hold the majority: As of 2023, for the first time since the U.S. has collected such data, half of all migrants who cross the border now come from elsewhere globally.

    […]
    But they come, too, from countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and every region in Asia. There have been dramatic increases in the number of migrants from the world’s most populous countries: Between fiscal 2019 and 2023, the number of migrants from China and India grew more than elevenfold and fivefold, respectively. And some countries that previously sent negligible numbers of migrants to the U.S. border have seen staggering increases. In fiscal 2019, the total number of people from the northwest African nation of Mauritania apprehended at the border was 20. Four years later, that number was 15,260. For migrants from Turkey, the number went from 60 to 15,430. The list goes on: More than 50 nationalities saw apprehensions multiplied by a hundred or more.

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  33. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner: The complexity of Obama’s Blackness (for the reasons you mentioned and more) came up in the conversation I mentioned earlier in the comments.

    On that note, I was really stuck by how the people in the discussion saw Michelle as a critical part of his Blackness. For those folks, she gave/gives him critical credibility. Which I had never thought of before, but as soon as they started discussing that it made total sense to me.

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  34. Gustopher says:

    Just wanted to point out that the subheading is barely addressed in Dr. Joyner’s post.

    The fine line between xenophobia and patriotism.

    @Jen touches on it it in her comment:

    I have a reflexively negative reaction to any “immigrants dilute our culture” posturing. It’s absurd for a nation of immigrants to make this argument.

    The right wing has defined patriotism in terms of Whiteness. And the left… has mostly just said that patriotism is xenophobia, rather than offering a competing definition with any force.

    There’s no ostentatious flag display on the left. The closest to an ostentatious lefty display we have is those annoying “in this house we believe” yard signs.

    We’re a nation of immigrants, struggling to reach the lofty goals of equality and freedom our Founding Fathers wrote of but didn’t live up to. There’s a story there, as we get closer to it.

    Right wing patriotism looks backwards.

    We need a left wing patriotism that looks forwards, but which celebrates the landmark moments in our past where we have started delivering on our Founding Father’s Dream. Juneteenth should be a massive celebration on the left — ending slavery was a huge step forwards — but it’s going to be a blip.

    We have the creative class, by and large, but they are bogged down in writing books about furries fighting aliens rather than writing the propaganda we need.

    And rather than talking about the Founding Father’s Dream and expanding it to everyone, there’s a lot more “did you know that George Washington had dentures made from the teeth of his slaves?”

    We fail at myth building.

    We’re much better at representation and inclusion, and those are important*, but we fail at myth building.

    *: when I was growing up, every queer character was either the victim of gay bashing, or dying of AIDS, or both. Nothing that said “you can be queer and be fine.” Seeing the first season of Heartbreaker a few years back made me realize how much not having a dippy queer teenage love drama affected me. And we never had Doctor Who kissing a dude.

    (Also, I have ideas for the next multi-Doctor story in Doctor Who.)

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  35. Gustopher says:

    @JKB: I think we need to let the people taking flights to Mexico to cross the southern US border know how much more porous the northern border is.

    There are lots of spots you can just walk across, or maybe get a kayak if you’re into water sports. And no pesky deserts! It’s the stylish way, if your idea of style involves gortex.

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  36. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon: It’s like the old poem:

    First they came for the gays, and a confluence of AIDS activists, respectability politics, lesbian porn and Will And Grace won out.

    Then the came for the trans folks, and I spoke up but I’m really not that good at this sort of thing, but hey, I tried.

    Then they came for the gays again, and I said “hey, make sure you get Andrew Sullivan because that guy’s a fucking douchenozzle”

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  37. @James Joyner: He has come across to me as an intellectually confused curmudgeon whose old-school, old-man British-style conservativism is oozing out.

    The fact that he is doing the “woke” routine is disappointing for someone with his education level, not to mention a gay man of his age who had to go through a lot before getting full rights.

    Moreover, the notion that the Democrats are specifically at fault with immigration is just wrong in the sense the basic macro-level policies have been the same for a couple of decades. Sure, there are the kinds of tweaks we saw this week via executive order and whatnot, but we don’t see some grand manifestation of Democratic preferences on display here.

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  38. @mattbernius:

    Ditto Italians–which again gets us to the idea that “Whiteness” (a broad cultural acceptance and easier access to power versus simply a skin color) has always been a moving social category.

    Yup.

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  39. @Gustopher:

    Improving Latin America’s prospects isn’t a pipe dream. Turning it into Canada with spicy food within 20 years likely is.

    Especially since most of Latin American doesn’t really have spicy foods 😉

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  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB:

    Before the pandemic, roughly 9 in 10 migrants crossing the border illegally (that is, between ports of entry) came from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the four countries closest to the border. Those countries no longer hold the majority: As of 2023, for the first time since the U.S. has collected such data, half of all migrants who cross the border now come from elsewhere globally.

    I’m sorry, and I don’t know who to blame for the sloppy writing, but those two data points are not correlative. One appears to measure illegal border crossings while the other appears to measure total border crossings. While it might seem logical to say that because more migrants come from other places now that people crossing the border illegally must also come from more places, such an assertion cannot be founded simply on the fact that more people from more places are crossing the border.

    As I say, it could be sloppy writing, but it doesn’t say what JKB thinks it says as stated.

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  41. Tony W says:

    We continue to blame the victim and point all of our resources at a symptom of the problem, rather than the real immigration problem: jobs exist for illegal immigrants in this country.

    If we start arresting factory managers and business owners, and families who hire undocumented aliens for household work, the problem will solve itself very, very quickly.

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  42. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Compared to Canadian cuisine, I’m betting the vast majority of Latin American cuisine is spicy.

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  43. Gustopher says:

    @Tony W: I suspect the grey economy is a lot larger than you are expecting, and this would cause a lot of unintended consequences very, very quickly.

    (And it would drive those undocumented immigrants who do stay into more-criminal employment.)

    I would be in favor of expanding U Visas to whistleblowers who report unsafe working conditions and OSHA violations. A small shot across the bow for employers, to test the waters.

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  44. DrDaveT says:

    The number of undetained illegal migrants living in the US has thereby ballooned under Biden: from 1% of residents in 2021 to 2% in 2023, most of that driven by the end of COVID restrictions, according to ICE.

    Edited for clarity. Doesn’t seem quite so frightening, when phrased thus, does it?

    If you don’t think the flood of Filipino-Americans is threatening our national identity, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about the comparable number of undetained illegals.

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  45. Wr says:

    Wow. Learn something new every day. Someone out there actually still reads Andrew Sullivan.

    I try to imagine a life where I have enough time to care about anything he could say, but the universe won’t last that long.

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  46. Ken_L says:

    I read a story two days ago about the US beating Pakistan in a T20 Cricket World Cup match. I was puzzled that the story had a picture of celebrating Pakistanis.

    They weren’t, of course. They were Americans. But I was so struck by the ethnic similarities of the two countries’ squads that I posted pictures of them on another website and challenged readers to pick which was which.

    Which in other circumstances would be a great selling point for the virtues of cultural diversity, but I guess the number of Americans who care about excelling in cricket ≅ 37, +/- 10.

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  47. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    None of what you wrote related to the question of what we, the United States, can do. Because of our past misdeeds, and a few well-motivated failures, we are not in a position to do much of anything.

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  48. @Gustopher: To the degree to which Canadian cuisine is descending from the British, perhaps so!

    But in all seriousness, the stereotype that LA is all like Mexixo isn’t the case. Colombian food, which I like an is quite tasty, is rarely spicy, for example.

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