The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

For years, Bernie Sanders warned that increased immigration would lower the wages of U.S. workers. Now he barely mentions it.

Over the past decade, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has repeatedly warned that an increase of immigrant labor will lower the wages of U.S. workers. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Days before the Senate voted down a bill in 2007 to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

“If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are right now,” Sanders said. ” … On one hand, you have large multinationals trying to shut down plants in America, move to China, and on the other hand, you have the service industry bringing in low-wage workers from abroad. The result is the same: Middle class gets shrunken, and wages go down.”

Sanders’s 2007 vote and comments on immigration came into focus again during Sunday night’s CNN-Univision Democratic debate, much like it did during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. In both cases, Sanders defended his vote by suggesting that the guest worker provisions in the bill were “akin to slavery,” a notable shift from how Sanders talked about immigrant labor before his presidential bids.

A Fix review of more than nine hours of Sanders’s appearances over the past decade reveal how, for years, Sanders often argued against increasing legal immigration to the United States out of fear that it would lower wages for U.S. workers, a view that is disputed by many economists. You can watch Sanders’s remarks over the years in the video above.

“I think at a time when the middle class is shrinking, the last thing we need is to bring, over a period of years, millions of people into this country who are prepared to lower wages for American workers,” Sanders said in 2007.

“I think we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Sanders said in 2011. “The one area where I am concerned about, and I’ve played an active role, is I don’t want to see companies utilizing guest worker programs to lower wages for American workers.”

“Corporate America is kind of using immigration reform as a means to continue their effort to lower wages in the United States of America,” Sanders said in 2013.

“Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal,” Sanders told Vox in 2015, referring to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. ” … I think from a moral responsibility, we’ve got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don’t do that by making people in this country even poorer.”

In December, Sanders explained it this way to the New York Times Editorial Board: “If you’re undocumented, and you’re being paid five bucks an hour, why am I going to pay her $12 an hour?”

(As the Times noted at the time, “The prevailing view of economists is that immigration increases economic growth, so it is not tethered to lower wages or less employment for American workers.”)

Sanders has been critical of increases to low- and high-skill immigrant labor alike over the years and has argued companies should be required to pay immigrant workers higher wages.

“The idea that in the United States of America, today, we need more people to come from other countries who will work at a high-tech job … because we just don’t have the workers in America is absolute nonsense,” Sanders said in 2007.

As a presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020, Sanders has been less likely to point to U.S. wages to explain his past opposition to increased immigrant labor. During Sunday’s debate, former vice president Joe Biden called Sanders’s claims that immigrants were taking jobs from Americans a “canard” and again slammed President Trump’s immigration policies.

“We can deal with securing the border by national technical means,” Biden said of Trump’s policies. “All the bad things are coming through ports of entry right now. We don’t need a wall.”

It was a notable shift from Biden’s position during his last presidential bid.

“I voted unlike most Democrats — and some of you won’t like it — I voted for 700 miles of fence,” then-Sen. Biden (D-Del.) told a South Carolina Rotary Club in 2006. “People are driving across that border with tons, tons — hear me — tons of everything from byproducts for methamphetamine to cocaine to heroin. And it’s all coming up through corrupt Mexico.”