Sanders on Open Borders: 'Can't Do It'

Sen. Bernie Sanders / Getty Images
April 8, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reiterated his longstanding opposition to open borders saying there is "a lot of poverty" and the U.S. cannot take "people from all over the world."

Sanders, who faced criticism on immigration during his 2016 presidential campaign, made the remarks on Sunday at a town hall in Iowa, according to The Washington Post.

"I'm afraid you may be getting your information wrong," Sanders said in response to a question from the audience as to why he supported open borders. "I think what we need is comprehensive immigration reform."

"Oh my god, there's a lot of poverty in this world, and you're going to have people from all over the world," Sanders continued. "I don't think that's something that we can do at this point. Can't do it."

The remarks underscore how out of step Sanders is with the Democratic electorate. Although the senator has generally supported a pathway to citizenship to citizenship and the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Sanders has diverged from liberal orthodoxy on the economics of migration.

Sanders elaborated on those views during an interview with Vox shortly after announcing his first presidential run. The septuagenerian senator was asked if he believed global poverty could be eradicated by "sharply raising the level of immigration" to the U.S., perhaps even to the point of "open borders." Sanders castigated the notion as a "right-wing" plot hatched by the Koch brothers.

"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," Sanders said. He added that "right-wing people... would love" open borders because it would "bring in all kinds of people" willing to "work for $2 or $3 an hour."

Those comments and Sander's efforts to kill comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 fueled Hillary Clinton's victories in heavily Latino states during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries.

It is unclear if Sanders's stance on immigration will prove a hindrance again in 2020. Since President Donald Trump took office, Democrats have clamored to create a contrast on immigration and border security. The party's elected officials and activists have endorsed the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, amnesty for more than 11 million illegal aliens, and less stringent border controls. Just last week, former secretary of housing and urban development Julian Castro, one of Sanders's 2020 competitors, unveiled an immigration plan that would remove criminal penalties for individuals that enter the U.S. illegally.

Sanders has yet to release his own immigration proposal.