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EDITORIAL: Democrats paying the political price for drifting far left on immigration

The nation’s homeland security chief said last month that members of Congress had “threatened” him over immigration enforcement. John F. Kelly, a retired Marine general, said he was “offended” by such intimidation.

Mr. Kelly provided no details, but it isn’t hard to believe the allegations, given the nation’s politically charged atmosphere. Yet the proper recourse for members of Congress who seek to liberalize U.S. immigration policy isn’t to badger those charged with enforcing the statutes, but to convince their legislative colleagues to change the laws.

The allegations highlight just how far out of the mainstream many Democrats have moved on immigration. For instance, Wall Street Journal columnist William A. Galston pointed out this week that in 2006, a Democratic senator said, “When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.” That senator was Barack Obama. Less than a decade later, such sentiments “were out of bounds for Democrats with political aspirations,” Mr. Galston observes.

Indeed, progressive activists now freely tar as xenophobic bigots those who simply seek to control the nation’s borders. The intentional blurring of the distinction between legal and illegal immigration is another common tactic designed to cloud the debate.

The political ramifications of such extremism have become clearer, and Democrats are paying the price. Mr. Galston refers to pollster Stanley Greenberg’s recent study of white, working-class voters who supported Donald Trump but had previously backed Barack Obama. Mr. Greenberg found a widespread perception among these men and women that “Democrats have moved from seeking to manage and champion the nation’s growing diversity to seeming to champion immigrant rights over American citizens.”

While few Americans support mass deportations of those in the country illegally, fewer still back open borders. “It’s not bigotry to calibrate immigration levels to the ability of immigrants to assimilate and to society’s ability to adjust,” argues a recent Foreign Affairs essay by Jeff Colgan and Robert Keohane, whom Mr. Galston describes as “two staunch liberal internationalists.”

Somewhere in Mr. Greenberg’s findings and the sensible pragmatism of Mr. Colgan and Mr. Keohane is a prescription for bipartisan immigration reform that recognizes both the value immigrants bring to the nation’s fabric and the importance of national security and American sovereignty. Unfortunately, we’re not even close to such a compromise if some members of Congress feel free to insult and threaten those who are enforcing the laws currently on the books.

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