Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont running for the Democratic nomination, may have upset some immigration reform advocates when he defended his 2007 vote against a comprehensive immigration reform bill at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Sanders told the audience that open borders are a threat to American jobs.
“There is a reason that Wall Street likes immigration reform,” Sanders said. “What I think they’re interested in is seeing a process by which we can bring low-wage labor of all levels into this country to depress wages in America and I strongly disagree with that.”
“I frankly do not believe we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled workers to compete with those kids. I want to see these kids get jobs,” Sanders said, referring to the high unemployment rates for recent high school graduates, reported MSNBC.
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White students who have recently graduated high school have an unemployment rate of 33 percent, while Hispanics have 36 percent and African-Americans 51 percent, Sanders noted.
At the chamber of commerce, Sanders echoed what he told Vox’s Ezra Klien in response to a question of whether he would support an open border policy.
“It would make everybody in America poorer,” Sanders said. “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. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.”
The interview was circulated widely and when reporters at the chamber of commerce were invited to ask questions, all but one asked about immigration, reports The Washington Post.
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Sanders remarks in the interview caused Klien’s colleague, Dylan Mathews, to point out in an op-ed that economic literature actually suggests an open border policy would dramatically increase economic growth.
Sanders, who supports a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. who are in the country illegally, pointed out that immigrants who illegally cross the border to get jobs are not solely to blame.
“There’s such a thing as illegal employers as well. People do not come over the border and get jobs without the full expectation their employers understand exactly what’s going on, pay them under the table and in fact exploit them,” Sanders said. “I find it interesting that my law-and-order friends, politicians, ignore that simple reality.”