Sheryl Canter

The Immigration Issue No One Talks About

256px-Statue_of_Liberty_7Why do so many people attempt to enter the U.S. illegally? The answer is not just that this is a desirable country to live in. That doesn’t explain why, for example, so many Mexicans risk their lives crossing a desert on foot rather than getting a proper visa. Why not come here legally?

I asked this question of a very nice man who has worked at a store in my neighborhood for years, and came to this country by risking his life walking through the Mexican desert. (The trick to survival, he said, is to cross in winter when it’s cooler.) Why did he do it? The answer is simple – there’s no way he could have gotten a visa. Coming here legally was not one of his options.

  • Poor people looking for opportunity cannot get visas to enter the U.S.
  • Desperate people fleeing persecution cannot get visas to enter the U.S.

If you’re educated and have a job waiting for you at a big American company, you can get a visa. But if you’re a poor Mexican who wants to come to this country for the opportunity it offers for education and advancement, forget it. If your life is in danger in your home country, you can die waiting for permission to enter the U.S.

The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is inscribed with a lovely poem that begins:

Give me your tired, your poor…

That was America’s attitude when my great grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1907, but it’s false advertising today. Today, America’s motto seems to be:

Give me your best and brightest. If you’re tired and poor, KEEP OUT!

So what I’d like to know is, why has immigration criteria changed so drastically, and why do policymakers never talk about it? You hear debates on walls and amnesty, and everyone seems to agree that illegal immigration should be stopped. But you never hear discussion of the oppressive visa-granting criteria that drives illegal immigration in the first place.

Somewhere along the line, America changed. We went from being a haven for the downtrodden and persecuted, to a clique that only the privileged and elite can join. Is this the kind of country we want?

3 Comments

  1. Neil C says:

    Actually, this is a misnomer. I do a lot of work with USCIS (Immigration), so I have a bit of insight into this.

    We allow 1.1MM legal permanent immigrants into the US each year. That is 22MM over the last 20 years. 33 cities the size of Washington, DC. All through legal channels. This is actually a very big number.

    Of the 1.1MM, more than 50% have less than a college education. Actually, only about 20-25% of this total get here through employment. Another 10% get here through refugee or asylee status. 50,000 get here through a lottery each year. The remainder, the lions share, get here through family relationships.

    Less than 50% of legal immigrants have a college degree. So, we are allowing 600,000+ less educated people to enter the US each year.

    What is really crazy is that a large portion of the less educated legal immigrants are the relatives of the illegals who came here in the 1980’s and got amnesty under the late 1980’s amnesty.

    If we reduced the concept of family relationships to spouses and minor children, we would free up enough slots to create a 300-400K person lottery, instead of the 50K lottery we have now.

    The question you did not ask, is “What is the impact on less educated citizens of an unlimited flow of competitive labor?” In many urban areas, illegal Hispanic labor has crowded out citizen Black labor. Here in DC, we have a very high Black unemployment rate, but a variety of trades and businesses have a almost holistically Spanish speaking labor force. It is clear that both wages and employment levels have been depressed for less educated Americans.

    So, while I have personally seen that most of the people who get here illegally are very hard working and honest. It still begs the question of their impact of our most disadvantaged.

    The fact you do not know how many legal immigrants get here annually and how they get here, is a deliberate failure on the part of the media. I know it is deliberate because I have talked to most of the Washington Post writers about this. Nonetheless, they refuse to print any actual data about immigration, preferring anecdotal stories about immigrant woes.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment, Neil. It’s hard to evaluate what’s going on without hard data. I’d like to see links verifying the statistics you give. Some of these numbers don’t look right to me – particularly the education numbers, given how many people come here to go to school.

    >The fact you do not know how many legal immigrants get here annually and how they get here, is a deliberate failure on the part of the media. I know it is deliberate because I have talked to most of the Washington Post writers about this. Nonetheless, they refuse to print any actual data about immigration, preferring anecdotal stories about immigrant woes.

    I’ve been a journalist myself, and I’m sure WaPo is not deliberately withholding data from the public to create a false impression. Baseless slurs don’t further the discussion. WaPo is a top-notch news organization with journalistic standards and reporters who seek to report the truth with integrity and take pride in their work (as we all do).

    As for whether 1.1MM is a large number of immigrants or a small number, it’s impossible to judge without knowing how many immigrants other countries of similar size (or smaller) can and do absorb. It doesn’t seem large to me for a country of over 300 million. Also, America is a country of immigrants. Except for the native Americans we displaced, we are all immigrants. Being a haven for people who want or need to leave their home country is a core part of our identity as Americans.

  3. Joakim says:

    Hello
    A very late reply I know. Just wanted to say that it was refreshing to see a civilized exchange on this topic instead of the heated exchanges of insults that usually accompany it.

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