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  • Article: Bernie Sanders and the Immigration Third Rail: Why I am Not Sure About His Presidential Candidacy. By Kevin Johnson

    Bernie Sanders and the Immigration Third Rail: Why I am Not Sure About His Presidential Candidacy

    by


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    Many of my progressive friends were quick to jump on the Bernie Sanders for President bandwagon.  His populist, class conscious, perhaps even socialist approach to many policy issues of the day intrigued liberals looking for something more than that currently being offered by the Democratic establishment, namely Hillary Clinton.  His upstart political campaign was an underdog that some people evidently want to root for.

    I reserved judgment.  Throughout American history, labor unions and others looking out for workers had taken tough immigration positions.  Recall that Denis Kearney and the Workingmen's Party of California supported various laws punishing Chinese immigrants and ultimately the Chinese exclusion laws of the nineteenth century.  The AFL-CIO supported employer sanctions in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.  Put simply, many restrictions in the American immigration laws are designed to protect American workers from foreign competition.  I, for one, wondered:  Would Bernie Sanders play into those tried-and-true restrictionist themes?

    This week took an ugly turn in the Sanders campaign -- although nothing compared to Donald Trump, of course. Sanders' stated fear that free migration might hurt American workers, including Latinos, suggest that he might have a deeply held protectionist foundation to his approach to immigration. 

    Dylan Matthews on Vox criticized "the visceral horror with which Bernie Sanders reacted to the idea [of open borders] when interviewed . . . . "Open borders?" he interjected. "No, that's a Koch brothers proposal." The idea, he argued, is a right-wing scheme meant to flood the US with cheap labor and depress wages for native-born workers. "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," he conceded, "but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer."

    The Washington Post and New York Times subsequently reported that Sanders defended his 2007 vote against a comprehensive immigration bill and told an audience hosted by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that "open borders" were 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 into this county."

    Sanders has his defenders on immigration. However, his willingness to use U.S. workers as a reason to resist immigration reform and defend restrictionist measures is worrisome.  When push comes to shove on immigration, such a predisposition could have disastrous consequences for immigrants.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Prof Blog. Reprinted with permission.


    About The Author

    Kevin R. Johnson

    Kevin R. Johnson is Dean, Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law, and Professor of Chicana/o Studies. He joined the UC Davis law faculty in 1989 and was named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 1998. Johnson became Dean in 2008. He has taught a wide array of classes, including immigration law, civil procedure, complex litigation, Latinos and Latinas and the law, and Critical Race Theory. In 1993, he was the recipient of the law school's Distinguished Teaching Award.


    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. sickandtired's Avatar
      sickandtired -
      which candidate is for open borders?
    1. Stephen Blower's Avatar
      Stephen Blower -
      [Note: portions of this reply is also posted elsewhere in ILW]


      In the August 6 edition of ILW, a comment titled "anti-immigration Democrat" referenced recent comments of Bernie Sanders from an article published by Daniel Bier in response to an Ezra Klein interview with Sanders about immigration issues as they pertain to employment and wages. To play devil's advocate, I believe it is important to temper the comments with perhaps some misunderstandings or lack of context. The history of Labor (in the political sense) advocacy in the United States has a checkered history, sometimes taking a general poorly articulated anti-immigration stance, such as the AFL held in the early twentieth century shaping the continued opposition to Chinese labor and even wanting to expand it to Japanese and Korean immigrants. These exclusionary policies seem to have been borne from an argument from organized and union labor that immigrants were acting as 'scabs' and willing to work for extremely low wages and that only a law restricting their employment (albeit through the drastic measure of excluding their permanent arrival entirely, but then immigration and employment have always been inextricably linked), would give the unions the leverage to demand higher wages. In fact, something akin to that situation tends to prevail today. But the solution obviously is not creating new "exclusionary acts," and I certainly don't believe Sanders intends to advocate that position. In fact, the AFL-CIO policy platform articulates a fair and comprehensive system of reform that would protect all employee's interests, both citizen and non-citizens alike. See http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Immigration.


      To put Sanders' comments into a broader context, I think that given his history on the position of the role of a minimum wage it is fair to say that "legalizing" a $2-$3 wage is untenable. Consider this exchange from 2013, where Sanders presses the issue with a Republican who likewise believes in abolishing the minimum wage: http://www.politicususa.com/2013/06/27/bernie-sanders-republican-leader-admit-abolish-minimum-wage.html


      So what could Sanders be referencing? "Open Borders" may be his (not entirely obvious) way of saying, the policy of allowing free movement of labor without restriction or minimum wages, working conditions, standards, such that would entail by abolishing the minimum wage etc. But I admit that by garbling that position with the issue of sovereignty ("nation-state" etc.,) I believe again he is most likely referring to a free and unregulated movement of labor. That is what is likely meant by "bring in a lot of low-wage workers," in other words, legalizing the marketplace to determine how low wages could fall given a glut of persons willing to do the work for a little money as possible. It's obvious that without the minimum wage, many more low income jobs would be yet lower income. Fast-food restaurants are not incentivized to offer higher wages when there are many more willing to do the work for minimum than not. That is a cornerstone of basic capitalist economics: If I have 100 applicants for one job, I'll hire whoever is willing to do it, at a minimum threshold of competency, for as little as possible. Without the minimum wage or its protections there is no doubt this would be the case, given the early history of industrial labor and the role of unions in curtailing abuses.

      This in no way reflects that Sanders' take on the issue is perfect, or close to it. In fact, his view tend to echo those of early labor's concerns of the limited pie concept--there's only so many pieces, and we have to save slices for our own. But compare these comments he has shared in Congress on immigrant job programs etc:

      "Now, there are several reasons why a temporary worker program, within certain constraints, is a good idea. The first reason is because it will help to relieve the magnet for illegal immigration. The reason most of the people are crossing our border illegally is to get employment. There are jobs available for them. Some people say this is work Americans will not do. That is actually not true. But there are not enough American citizens to do all of the work that needs to be done. So naturally the law of supply and demand sets in here. People come across the border illegally, and they take that work. What we want to do is both close the border, but also eliminate the magnet for illegal employment here, because the reality is desperate people will always try to find some way to get into the country."

      I believe it of course has been shown, at least through plentiful anecdotal evidence, that Americans are in fact not willing to work in the jobs available--at least not at what the undocumented are being paid in in those conditions, such as farm laborers.

      Regarding building a fence on the Mexican border: "This bill also ignores real enforcement measures, like hiring more Border Patrol personnel, and instead builds a Berlin Wall on our southern border. So long as employers need workers in this country, and while our immigration systems impede rather than facilitate timely access of willing workers to those opportunities, undocumented immigration will never be controlled.

      Walls, barriers, and military patrols will only force those immigrants to utilize ever more dangerous routes and increase the number of people who die in search of an opportunity to feed and clothe their families."

      While everyone knows that making perfect (as in 100% enforcement of the border) the enemy of the good (comprehensive immigration reform), and Sanders sounds that typical note, he also recognizes the reality of our broken system, and that employers' exploitation of the undocumented is an economic reality.

      And finally, the rabidly anti-immigrant group FAIR gives Sanders a 0% rating, obviously the lowest possible. So he isn't squarely aligned with the typical agenda of anti-immigration policies, at least not in the eyes of other groups who think that providing ratings about Congresspersons about their own pet issues will influence the voting public or other elected officials.

      So, I think the reality of his position, which may not be fully formed, is more nuanced. And in fact seems to be evolving, although not expounded on in sufficient context. Sanders is no isolationist. Sanders' view and his arguments are far from perfect, but I believe they stem from a long legacy of traditional labor's arguments that "deregulating" labor legislation tends to harm the employee and enrich the corporate entities.

      Quotes drawn from http://www.ontheissues.org/International/Bernie_Sanders_Immigration.htm

      And just three weeks ago, in comments to a crowd in Kansas City responding to DSonald Trump's racist comments about Mexicans, consider the following as reported by CNN: "Immigration reform was one of the key points in his speech to the Kansas City crowd on Monday where he [Sanders] called the issue "one critical piece that must be talked about" when talking about the Latino community. "Without these folks it is likely that out agricultural system would collapse," Sanders said.

      Undocumented workers, he said, do the difficult work of "harvesting our crops, cooking our meals and caring for our children." Sanders called for "a responsible path to citizenship," for undocumented workers and reiterated his support for the DREAM Act and the children of undocumented immigrants who he described as "American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home."

      On a final note, although Sanders' position is often self described as Socialist Democrat (or, Independent caucusing with the Democrats: consider the immigration platform described on http://socialistparty-usa.net/platform.html

      "The Socialist Party works to build a world in which everyone will be able to freely move across borders, to visit and to live wherever they choose. We recognize the central role global capitalism plays in forcing the immigration of people from the less developed to the more industrialized countries, often leading to further economic and social injustice.
      • We support secular democratic states, assuring equal rights to every citizen and resident in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
      • We oppose the militarization of the United States/Mexican border, and an increase in the service budget instead of the "military" budget of the INS.
      • We defend the rights of all immigrants to education, health care, and full civil and legal rights and call for an unconditional amnesty program for all undocumented people. We oppose the imposition of any fees on those receiving amnesty.
      • We call for an end to the use of "secret evidence" in deportation hearings, a ban on all immigration detentions and military tribunals, and full due process and habeus [sic] corpus rights in U.S. courts for all non-citizens on U.S. territory or in U.S. custody. We demand an end to police raids in areas where immigrants congregate.
      • We oppose "guest worker" programs.
      We call for full citizenship rights upon demonstrating residency for six months."

      Bernie Sanders could not possibly be fully ignorant of these "radical" platform positions, so I'm sure to secure his support in the pro-Labor left he has tempered it greatly. At the same time we do not hear him crying out for massive deportation round-ups, criminalization of the undocumented workers, etc.

      Therefore, Sanders' recent comments should not be misconstrued as the final word, or even the accurate word, on Sanders' immigration platform.

      Stephen T. Blower, Esq.
    1. Stephen Blower's Avatar
      Stephen Blower -
      To the Editor:

      In today's edition of ILW, a comment titled "anti-immigration Democrat" referenced recent comments of Bernie Sanders from an article published by Daniel Bier in response to an Ezra Klein interview with Sanders about immigration issues as they pertain to employment and wages. To play devil's advocate, I believe it is important to temper the comments with perhaps some misunderstandings or lack of context. The history of Labor (in the political sense) advocacy in the United States has a checkered history, sometimes taking a general poorly articulated anti-immigration stance, such as the AFL held in the early twentieth century shaping the continued opposition to Chinese labor and even wanting to expand it to Japanese and Korean immigrants. These exclusionary policies seem to have been borne from an argument from organized and union labor that immigrants were acting as 'scabs' and willing to work for extremely low wages and that only a law restricting their employment (albeit through the drastic measure of excluding their permanent arrival entirely, but then immigration and employment have always been inextricably linked), would give the unions the leverage to demand higher wages. In fact, something akin to that situation tends to prevail today. But the solution obviously is not creating new "exclusionary acts," and I certainly don't believe Sanders intends to advocate that position. In fact, the AFL-CIO policy platform articulates a fair and comprehensive system of reform that would protect all employee's interests, both citizen and non-citizens alike. See http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Immigration.


      To put Sanders' comments into a broader context, I think that given his history on the position of the role of a minimum wage it is fair to say that "legalizing" a $2-$3 wage is untenable. Consider this exchange from 2013, where Sanders presses the issue with a Republican who likewise believes in abolishing the minimum wage: http://www.politicususa.com/2013/06/27/bernie-sanders-republican-leader-admit-abolish-minimum-wage.html


      So what could Sanders be referencing? "Open Borders" may be his (not entirely obvious) way of saying, the policy of allowing free movement of labor without restriction or minimum wages, working conditions, standards, such that would entail by abolishing the minimum wage etc. But I admit that by garbling that position with the issue of sovereignty ("nation-state" etc.,) I believe again he is most likely referring to a free and unregulated movement of labor. That is what is likely meant by "bring in a lot of low-wage workers," in other words, legalizing the marketplace to determine how low wages could fall given a glut of persons willing to do the work for a little money as possible. It's obvious that without the minimum wage, many more low income jobs would be yet lower income. Fast-food restaurants are not incentivized to offer higher wages when there are many more willing to do the work for minimum than not. That is a cornerstone of basic capitalist economics: If I have 100 applicants for one job, I'll hire whoever is willing to do it, at a minimum threshold of competency, for as little as possible. Without the minimum wage or its protections there is no doubt this would be the case, given the early history of industrial labor and the role of unions in curtailing abuses.

      This in no way reflects that Sanders' take on the issue is perfect, or close to it. In fact, his view tend to echo those of early labor's concerns of the limited pie concept--there's only so many pieces, and we have to save slices for our own. But compare these comments he has shared in Congress on immigrant job programs etc:

      "Now, there are several reasons why a temporary worker program, within certain constraints, is a good idea. The first reason is because it will help to relieve the magnet for illegal immigration. The reason most of the people are crossing our border illegally is to get employment. There are jobs available for them. Some people say this is work Americans will not do. That is actually not true. But there are not enough American citizens to do all of the work that needs to be done. So naturally the law of supply and demand sets in here. People come across the border illegally, and they take that work. What we want to do is both close the border, but also eliminate the magnet for illegal employment here, because the reality is desperate people will always try to find some way to get into the country."

      I believe it of course has been shown, at least through plentiful anecdotal evidence, that Americans are in fact not willing to work in the jobs available--at least not at what the undocumented are being paid in in those conditions, such as farm laborers.

      Regarding building a fence on the Mexican border: "This bill also ignores real enforcement measures, like hiring more Border Patrol personnel, and instead builds a Berlin Wall on our southern border. So long as employers need workers in this country, and while our immigration systems impede rather than facilitate timely access of willing workers to those opportunities, undocumented immigration will never be controlled.

      Walls, barriers, and military patrols will only force those immigrants to utilize ever more dangerous routes and increase the number of people who die in search of an opportunity to feed and clothe their families."

      While everyone knows that making perfect (as in 100% enforcement of the border) the enemy of the good (comprehensive immigration reform), and Sanders sounds that typical note, he also recognizes the reality of our broken system, and that employers' exploitation of the undocumented is an economic reality.

      And finally, the rabidly anti-immigrant group FAIR gives Sanders a 0% rating, obviously the lowest possible. So he isn't squarely aligned with the typical agenda of anti-immigration policies, at least not in the eyes of other groups who think that providing ratings about Congresspersons about their own pet issues will influence the voting public or other elected officials.

      So, I think the reality of his position, which may not be fully formed, is more nuanced. And in fact seems to be evolving, although not expounded on in sufficient context. Sanders is no isolationist. Sanders' view and his arguments are far from perfect, but I believe they stem from a long legacy of traditional labor's arguments that "deregulating" labor legislation tends to harm the employee and enrich the corporate entities.

      Quotes drawn from http://www.ontheissues.org/International/Bernie_Sanders_Immigration.htm

      And just three weeks ago, in comments to a crowd in Kansas City responding to DSonald Trump's racist comments about Mexicans, consider the following as reported by CNN: "Immigration reform was one of the key points in his speech to the Kansas City crowd on Monday where he [Sanders] called the issue "one critical piece that must be talked about" when talking about the Latino community. "Without these folks it is likely that out agricultural system would collapse," Sanders said.

      Undocumented workers, he said, do the difficult work of "harvesting our crops, cooking our meals and caring for our children." Sanders called for "a responsible path to citizenship," for undocumented workers and reiterated his support for the DREAM Act and the children of undocumented immigrants who he described as "American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home."

      On a final note, although Sanders' position is often self described as Socialist Democrat (or, Independent caucusing with the Democrats: consider the immigration platform described on http://socialistparty-usa.net/platform.html

      "The Socialist Party works to build a world in which everyone will be able to freely move across borders, to visit and to live wherever they choose. We recognize the central role global capitalism plays in forcing the immigration of people from the less developed to the more industrialized countries, often leading to further economic and social injustice.
      • We support secular democratic states, assuring equal rights to every citizen and resident in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
      • We oppose the militarization of the United States/Mexican border, and an increase in the service budget instead of the "military" budget of the INS.
      • We defend the rights of all immigrants to education, health care, and full civil and legal rights and call for an unconditional amnesty program for all undocumented people. We oppose the imposition of any fees on those receiving amnesty.
      • We call for an end to the use of "secret evidence" in deportation hearings, a ban on all immigration detentions and military tribunals, and full due process and habeus [sic] corpus rights in U.S. courts for all non-citizens on U.S. territory or in U.S. custody. We demand an end to police raids in areas where immigrants congregate.
      • We oppose "guest worker" programs.
      We call for full citizenship rights upon demonstrating residency for six months."

      Bernie Sanders could not possibly be fully ignorant of these "radical" platform positions, so I'm sure to secure his support in the pro-Labor left he has tempered it greatly. At the same time we do not hear him crying out for massive deportation round-ups, criminalization of the undocumented workers, etc.

      Therefore, Sanders' recent comments should not be misconstrued as the final word, or even the accurate word, on Sanders' immigration platform.

      Stephen T. Blower, Esq.
    1. Stephen Blower's Avatar
      Stephen Blower -
      I believe it is important to temper the comments with perhaps some misunderstandings or lack of context. The history of Labor (in the political sense) advocacy in the United States has a checkered history, sometimes taking a general poorly articulated anti-immigration stance, such as the AFL held in the early twentieth century shaping the continued opposition to Chinese labor and even wanting to expand it to Japanese and Korean immigrants. These exclusionary policies seem to have been borne from an argument from organized and union labor that immigrants were acting as 'scabs' and willing to work for extremely low wages and that only a law restricting their employment (albeit through the drastic measure of excluding their permanent arrival entirely, but then immigration and employment have always been inextricably linked), would give the unions the leverage to demand higher wages. In fact, something akin to that situation tends to prevail today. But the solution obviously is not creating new "exclusionary acts," and I certainly don't believe Sanders intends to advocate that position. In fact, the AFL-CIO policy platform articulates a fair and comprehensive system of reform that would protect all employee's interests, both citizen and non-citizens alike. See http://www.aflcio.org/Issues/Immigration.


      To put Sanders' comments into a broader context, I think that given his history on the position of the role of a minimum wage it is fair to say that "legalizing" a $2-$3 wage is untenable. Consider this exchange from 2013, where Sanders presses the issue with a Republican who likewise believes in abolishing the minimum wage: http://www.politicususa.com/2013/06/27/bernie-sanders-republican-leader-admit-abolish-minimum-wage.html


      So what could Sanders be referencing? "Open Borders" may be his (not entirely obvious) way of saying, the policy of allowing free movement of labor without restriction or minimum wages, working conditions, standards, such that would entail by abolishing the minimum wage etc. But I admit that by garbling that position with the issue of sovereignty ("nation-state" etc.,) I believe again he is most likely referring to a free and unregulated movement of labor. That is what is likely meant by "bring in a lot of low-wage workers," in other words, legalizing the marketplace to determine how low wages could fall given a glut of persons willing to do the work for a little money as possible. It's obvious that without the minimum wage, many more low income jobs would be yet lower income. Fast-food restaurants are not incentivized to offer higher wages when there are many more willing to do the work for minimum than not. That is a cornerstone of basic capitalist economics: If I have 100 applicants for one job, I'll hire whoever is willing to do it, at a minimum threshold of competency, for as little as possible. Without the minimum wage or its protections there is no doubt this would be the case, given the early history of industrial labor and the role of unions in curtailing abuses.

      This in no way reflects that Sanders' take on the issue is perfect, or close to it. In fact, his view tend to echo those of early labor's concerns of the limited pie concept--there's only so many pieces, and we have to save slices for our own. But compare these comments he has shared in Congress on immigrant job programs etc:

      "Now, there are several reasons why a temporary worker program, within certain constraints, is a good idea. The first reason is because it will help to relieve the magnet for illegal immigration. The reason most of the people are crossing our border illegally is to get employment. There are jobs available for them. Some people say this is work Americans will not do. That is actually not true. But there are not enough American citizens to do all of the work that needs to be done. So naturally the law of supply and demand sets in here. People come across the border illegally, and they take that work. What we want to do is both close the border, but also eliminate the magnet for illegal employment here, because the reality is desperate people will always try to find some way to get into the country."

      I believe it of course has been shown, at least through plentiful anecdotal evidence, that Americans are in fact not willing to work in the jobs available--at least not at what the undocumented are being paid in in those conditions, such as farm laborers.

      Regarding building a fence on the Mexican border: "This bill also ignores real enforcement measures, like hiring more Border Patrol personnel, and instead builds a Berlin Wall on our southern border. So long as employers need workers in this country, and while our immigration systems impede rather than facilitate timely access of willing workers to those opportunities, undocumented immigration will never be controlled.

      Walls, barriers, and military patrols will only force those immigrants to utilize ever more dangerous routes and increase the number of people who die in search of an opportunity to feed and clothe their families."

      While everyone knows that making perfect (as in 100% enforcement of the border) the enemy of the good (comprehensive immigration reform), and Sanders sounds that typical note, he also recognizes the reality of our broken system, and that employers' exploitation of the undocumented is an economic reality.

      And finally, the rabidly anti-immigrant group FAIR gives Sanders a 0% rating, obviously the lowest possible. So he isn't squarely aligned with the typical agenda of anti-immigration policies, at least not in the eyes of other groups who think that providing ratings about Congresspersons about their own pet issues will influence the voting public or other elected officials.

      So, I think the reality of his position, which may not be fully formed, is more nuanced. And in fact seems to be evolving, although not expounded on in sufficient context. Sanders is no isolationist. Sanders' view and his arguments are far from perfect, but I believe they stem from a long legacy of traditional labor's arguments that "deregulating" labor legislation tends to harm the employee and enrich the corporate entities.

      Quotes drawn from http://www.ontheissues.org/International/Bernie_Sanders_Immigration.htm

      And just three weeks ago, in comments to a crowd in Kansas City responding to DSonald Trump's racist comments about Mexicans, consider the following as reported by CNN: "Immigration reform was one of the key points in his speech to the Kansas City crowd on Monday where he [Sanders] called the issue "one critical piece that must be talked about" when talking about the Latino community. "Without these folks it is likely that out agricultural system would collapse," Sanders said.

      Undocumented workers, he said, do the difficult work of "harvesting our crops, cooking our meals and caring for our children." Sanders called for "a responsible path to citizenship," for undocumented workers and reiterated his support for the DREAM Act and the children of undocumented immigrants who he described as "American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home."

      On a final note, although Sanders' position is often self described as Socialist Democrat (or, Independent caucusing with the Democrats: consider the immigration platform described on http://socialistparty-usa.net/platform.html

      "The Socialist Party works to build a world in which everyone will be able to freely move across borders, to visit and to live wherever they choose. We recognize the central role global capitalism plays in forcing the immigration of people from the less developed to the more industrialized countries, often leading to further economic and social injustice.
      • We support secular democratic states, assuring equal rights to every citizen and resident in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
      • We oppose the militarization of the United States/Mexican border, and an increase in the service budget instead of the "military" budget of the INS.
      • We defend the rights of all immigrants to education, health care, and full civil and legal rights and call for an unconditional amnesty program for all undocumented people. We oppose the imposition of any fees on those receiving amnesty.
      • We call for an end to the use of "secret evidence" in deportation hearings, a ban on all immigration detentions and military tribunals, and full due process and habeus [sic] corpus rights in U.S. courts for all non-citizens on U.S. territory or in U.S. custody. We demand an end to police raids in areas where immigrants congregate.
      • We oppose "guest worker" programs.
      We call for full citizenship rights upon demonstrating residency for six months."

      Bernie Sanders could not possibly be fully ignorant of these "radical" platform positions, so I'm sure to secure his support in the pro-Labor left he has tempered it greatly. At the same time we do not hear him crying out for massive deportation round-ups, criminalization of the undocumented workers, etc.

      Therefore, Sanders' recent comments should not be misconstrued as the final word, or even the accurate word, on Sanders' immigration platform.

      Stephen T. Blower, Esq.
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