Sen. Walter Huddleston was a reminder that immigration used to be a bipartisan issue
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Former Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston (D-Ky.) passed away on Oct. 16 at the age of 92. His passing is not only a sad reminder of a time of greater civility in our politics, but of an era when politicians of both parties could put aside political differences and find common ground on important issues that affected the well-being of the country.

In its obituary for the former Kentucky senator, The Hill made note of the fact that both in and out of public office Huddleston worked for reduced immigration and immigration enforcement, “despite his history as a Democrat.” In 2018, the notion that Democrats might favor lower levels of immigration seems shocking. But not that long ago, concerns about the impact of mass immigration on American workers and taxpayers, the environmental impact of immigration-driven population growth, and other societal concerns led many Democrats to the conclusion that excessive levels of immigration were not in the national interest.

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Notable Democrats who served in federal and state office in those more genteel times, such as Sen. Eugene McCarthy (Minn.), Sen. Gaylord Nelson (Wis.), Rep. Barbara Jordan (Texas), Gov. Dick Lamm (Colo.), Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrump must avoid gas tax trap Democrats are setting for him Debate over American exceptionalism is over Gillibrand sidesteps question on possible Clinton 2020 run MORE, and others understood that immigration produces winners and losers – and that too often American workers and our nation’s environmental sustainability were among the losers.

Even Jerry Brown (Version 1.0), famously attempted to prevent the federal government from resettling Vietnamese refugees in California in 1975, arguing that “There is something a little strange about saying, ‘Let’s bring in 500,000 more people,’ when we can’t take care of the one million out of work.” Likewise, an earlier version of Brown’s fellow California Democrat, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' Congress needs to wake up to nuclear security threat Democrats in murky legal water with Whitaker lawsuits MOREdeclared in 1993 that, “The day when America could be the welfare system for Mexico is gone.”

But that was then, and this is now. Now, the immigration debate, like just about all other important issues, is about raw political power. It would be hard to find a Democrat holding elected office today who will even pay lip service to how immigration affects the interests of American workers, taxpayers, or the environment.

Democrats today have concluded, correctly, that large-scale immigration benefits their party politically – although not necessarily Democrats who currently hold office, as unseated champions of mass immigration like Howard Berman (Calif.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.), and others can attest. Immigration patterns that result in about half of all immigrant-headed household relying on at least one form of public assistance, the rise of identity politics, and other immigration-related phenomena all favor the long-term political fortunes of the Democratic Party. But they do not benefit the nation, as more principled Democrats of the past, like Huddleston, understood.

A further indication of just how far the debate about immigration policy has devolved can be found in The Hill’s obituary. The well-respected Inside-the-Beltway publication was not only incredulous that a Democrat could support reduced immigration and enforcement, but also parroted the canard that those who advocate such positions are “anti-immigrant” (a deliberate attempt to conflate opposition to a policy with animus toward an entire class of people) and motivated by hatred. In other words, not only can no self-respecting Democrat come to the conclusion that mass immigration does not serve the best interests of the American people, but no decent human being could legitimately call for reductions in immigration.

Dee Huddleston was one of the last living links to an era before Twitter accounts when politicians, the media, and others could recognize that reasonable people could disagree reasonably about important issues, and that differences of opinion were not inherent signs of moral character deficiencies on the part of the other person.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is honored to have had Sen. Huddleston serve as an advisory board member for so many years, as we have been honored to have many other prominent Democrats, Republicans, military officials, academics, and philanthropists provide input on one of the most important public policy issues of our time.

Sen. Huddleston, like many who served with him in the Senate and on FAIR’s Board of Advisors, put country ahead of partisan politics. Even though he was not a household name by the time of his passing, that is why he will be missed.

Dan Stein is president at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).