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We’ve had some noisy conversations here recently on the subject of immigration. My own position has been that we should admit those, and only those, who will be assets rather than liabilities — and that we need to cultivate in ourselves the discernment to tell the difference. We want intelligent, motivated, creative, hard-working people who appreciate what America is and what it offers, and who yearn to participate not only in our prosperity but also in our culture. I would rather have these bright and energetic people working hard over here than over there, and lifting our economy as they are already lifting those of their own countries. In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman tells us, if I am reading him correctly, that he feels more or less the same way. (What he is not telling us, however, is whether he would restrict immigration to only those so qualified, as I think we should, or leave the doors flung agape as they presently are.)

His column is here.

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9 Comments

  1. JW says

    Well, if participating in America’s prosperity necessitates participating in its culture, I would say there isn’t a whole lot to worry about. I would think that that relation by and large holds true, but I’d be interested to know your opinions on it.

    Posted February 12, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    JW,

    I don’t believe that participating in America’s prosperity does necessitate participating in its culture, though those who are likely to be economic assets here probably will assimilate well also.

    What I mean is that we should open the door only to those who seem apt to do both.

    Posted February 12, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  3. JW says

    I guess “necessitate” is too rigid a word to describe what I was trying to say. What I think is beyond doubt — at least it seems so to me — is that participating in the culture would greatly increase one’s chances of participating in the prosperity, and any halfway thinking immigrant would recognize that to be true, thus giving him a huge motivation to take seriously what he will perceive as a “necessity”.

    Posted February 12, 2009 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  4. Addofio says

    Malcolm, a question: What about relatives of the intelligent, creative, hard-working immigrant? We decide person A is of the right type, and admit him/her; s/he wants to bring relatives over, a natural desire (husband, wife, children, brother, sister, parents); would you also admit them on that basis?

    Posted February 13, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hi Addofio,

    That does complicate things. Obviously we will not attract the people we need if they have to leave their entire families behind. But on the other hand the current system of anchor babies, “chain” migration (I get in, so my wife gets in, her sister gets in, her sister’s husband and kids get in, his parents get in, their other kids get in, etc), etc. is far too lax. So perhaps the right balance is to admit spouses and children only.

    Posted February 13, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  6. Jacob says

    As someone who’s wife immigrated to the US via marriage to me, I can’t agree with Malcolm extreme (if understandable) position, even if I thought my wife would have qualified other wise.

    But having had personal experience in the procedure, I can tell you, the doors are not flung wide open. The process is expensive, tiring, complicated, difficult, intrusive, at times simply ridiculous, often intimidating, even insulting. This fact is amply demonstrated by how many try to enter the country *illegally*. Illegal immigration is the cause of most of the problems people worry about. Getting poor people in the country is not too much a burden, as long as the stream is slow and steady, not an overwhelming flood. We get a lot of credit and good will abroad for our official stance of “bring us your tired, your poor, your hungry”.

    Hell, it can be hard to even visit the U.S. as a tourist. The citizens of Poland, our most steadfast ally in the “War on Terror”, whose citizens largely adore the US for its role in overturning communism, cannot visit the US without a visa, and the process by which one obtains the vica can be difficult and even insulting. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens are free to travel Poland with a mere passport. I stayed months on end in Poland by merely exiting the country every three months, having a beer at a pub, and returning a few hours later. This disparity is perhaps the biggest political issue between the US and Poland among Poles, and very few USAians are even aware of it.

    My understanding is that citizens of Ukraine have to travel to Poland to get a visa. How silly is that?

    I’m all for immigration reform; but the critique has got to start with understanding what’s wrong with the immigration process itself. I might add, that assisting other countries become more tolerable places to live (like Mexico), might slow the flow of illegal immigration. Its not that we owe them anything in particular. It can be done out of pure self interest.

    Jacob

    Posted February 13, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  7. Jacob says

    I get in, so my wife gets in, her sister gets in, her sister’s husband and kids get in, his parents get in, their other kids get in, etc), etc. is far too lax. So perhaps the right balance is to admit spouses and children only.

    Malcolm,

    Wife can get it in. Takes about 1-2 years, depending on a number of factors. The rest? Well, it takes ever longer the more distant the relationship, and often people don’t get in at all. People sometimes wait 10 years or more to immigrate based on relative status.

    Do you know that when you sponsor someone to immigrate you are legally bound to feed and house them for many many years? Even after a divorce. Until they become citizens or have worked for so many years.

    Posted February 13, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Jacob,

    I’m not sure what part of my position you disagree with; I did say that I thought spouses and children of those we consider desirable applicants ought to be allowed in.

    I quite agree that illegal immigration is most serious part of the problem.

    It’s getting hard to visit Britain now too, if you are an opinionated Westerner.

    Posted February 13, 2009 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  9. Jacob says

    Malcolm, I’m sorry if I missed that.

    Best,

    Jacob

    Posted February 14, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink