Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good Immigrant-Bad Immigrant: codifying a caste system

On Thursday, President Obama will once again meet with the movers and shakers in the Immigration Reform debate. Having already punted the ball down field, postponing any meaningful reform until next year, Obama will take this opportunity to reassure those concerned that he hasn't forgotten them, and more importantly, their constituents and members who worked so hard to put him in office.

And when the niceties and glad-handing are over, they will hunker down to the kind of horse trading that goes on in proverbial smoke filled rooms.

Political calculations and public relations strategies will as much topics of conversation as policy and legislative change. And when the smoke clears, we'll be one step closer to some sort of Frankenstein compromise, cobbled together of various bits and pieces of previous legislative initiatives, concessions to numerous special interests, and easily sold sound bites intended to mollify the great middle of the uninterested or uninformed.

And so it goes

But one thing we know will be included in the Great Compromise of 2010 will be the division of all immigrants, both current and future, into a two tiered caste system that places one value on those with education, skills, English language proficiency, or financial resources, and another on the vast majority of others who come with little more to offer than a yearning to make a better life.

We first saw this division of future immigrants into "desirable" and "undesirable" in the merit based system proposed in the 2007 legislation.

According to that system, each new prospective immigrant would be rated according to his or her "desirability" and ability to "contribute" to society. Points were given for English language proficiency, educational achievement, ability to be employed in certain fields, job history, whether one had personal health insurance, and finally, family ties.

Under this system, the Migration Policy Institute found that a marked shift in immigrant demographics would result. A shift from an essentially hemispheric migration model that favored family reunification and opportunity for the kind of low-skilled workers that have traditionally made up immigrant population for over 100 years, to a global model that favored high skilled immigrants with access to higher education and English language acquisition.

Put more plainly … those who came from countries that can afford to educate their populations to provide the skills needed in a new global economy would be welcome.

Those from regions too poor, rural, or politically unstable to provide world class educations … they'd be shit outa luck.

Additionally the system would have meant a defacto closing of the door to our closets neighbors.

After spending 200 years meddling and destabilizing our southern neighbors for either profit or geopolitical machinations, the vast majority of prospective immigrants from the region would be ill equipped to compete in a system that placed added value on certain attributes they lacked, while making sure to minimize the valuable contributions they have made not only in the past, but could continue to make in the future.

But that's all past history .. right? The bill crashed and burned.

This time around is different.

We've got a majority in both houses, a liberal President, and a right-wing in shambles … no need for ridiculous restrictions just to mollify a minority of rabid racists bend on stemming an imaginary "invasion."

Well think again.

One of the cornerstones of Chuck Schumer's seven-point plan to finally accomplish what Tom Tancredo couldn't, reintroduces a new merit system for the 21st century:

we need to recognize the important contribution that high-skilled immigrants have already made, and must continue to make, toward revitalizing and reinventing the American economy.

No immigration system would be worthwhile if it is unable to attract the best and brightest minds of the world to come to the United States and create jobs for Americans—as has been the case for Yahoo, Google, Intel, E-Bay, and countless other companies.

That being said, any reformed immigration system must be successful in encouraging the next Albert Einstein to emigrate permanently to the United States while, at the same time, discouraging underpaid, temporary workers from taking jobs that could and should be filled by qualified American workers.


While Schumer vaguely alludes to the institution of an immigrant caste system …. The Council on Foreign Relations, who appear to have written the blueprint for Obama's immigration compromise, flesh it all out:

Attracting Skilled Immigrants

The United States needs to develop a conscious and explicit policy for attracting highly skilled immigrants. For most of its history, America has enjoyed a considerable skills and education advantage over its largest economic competitors. This is unfortunately no longer the case. Other countries are producing highly skilled workers faster than the United States, and such individuals will be in increasingly high demand in the U.S. economy in the coming years.

America’s economic future, as well as its diplomatic success, depends greatly on its ability to attract a significant share of the best and brightest immigrants from around the world.

The Task Force recommends that the United States tackle headon the growing competition for skilled immigrants from other countries and make the goal of attracting such immigrants a central component of its immigration policy. For decades, the primary goal has been to ration admission; in the future, recruiting the immigrants it wants must be the highest priority.

The Task Force recommends that quotas for skilled work visas like the H-1B visa be increased, but fluctuate in line with economic conditions. Similarly, the number of employment-based green cards should not face a hard cap, but should be allowed to increase and decrease as economic conditions warrant. Under most economic conditions, the number of employment-based green cards should be significantly higher than current levels.

For those in the United States on temporary work visas, with the exception of seasonal work visas like the H-2A and the H-2B, the Task Force recommends eliminating the current requirement that these visa holders demonstrate the intent to not immigrate to the United States. Such a requirement is an anachronism that does not reflect how immigration to the United States actually takes place for most people, and does not recognize the U.S. national interest in encouraging some of those visa holders to remain in the United States permanently

The Task Force therefore recommends eliminating the nationality quotas for skilled workers.

link [pg.84]

According to this plan, skilled workers would get more green cards, no national quotas, and not be subjected to real temporary status. They would be actively recruited and their path to citizenship made as easy as possible.

And what about the unskilled …. They get to come as guest workers:

Temporary Worker Programs

Although the U.S. economy has exhibited an enormous and continued appetite for low-skilled labor, the immigration system simply does not recognize the demand. The quotas for employment-based admission by low-skilled immigrants are minuscule, and in practice most of the demand is filled by unauthorized immigrants. Recognizing that the U.S. economy has had and will continue to have a significant appetite for low-skilled workers is a critical part of gaining control over illegal immigration.

.. The Task Force recommends a two-pronged approach. First, the United States should recognize that, subject to economic fluctuations, continued demand for low-skilled labor is likely to be an ongoing feature of the economy. Therefore, the United States should allow greater numbers of lowskilled immigrants to enter on work visas, with the option of seeking permanent residence if they wish. Those numbers should be adjusted regularly based on the needs of the economy, with the goal of enhancing U.S. competitiveness. At the same time, the government should create an expanded seasonal work program—but one that is easier for employers to use and that provides better protections for the foreign workers employed in it.

link [pg.87]

The unskilled, according to this plan, are allowed to enter the country on temporary work visas that have the option to become permanent down the road, or as temporary seasonal workers (see: agricultural workers), who will be presumably treated better than currently is the norm.

This plan is not much different from all the previous guest workers programs proposed in the past from McCain-Kennedy to the Grand Compromise. A promise of some sort of future permanent residency is offered in return for temporary worker status.

This division of the immigrant population into two distinct castes, one actively recruited and provided with an easy path to permanency, another "allowed" to enter under temporary visas or "tolerated" as agricultural guests workers, sets up a dichotomy that is not only morally vacant ..But contrary to a common sense approach to immigration reform.

Any system which attempts to codify some arbitrary value placed upon the worth of human beings, and the contributions they make to society, can never succeed as public policy.

How can the worth of those who provide your food, build your homes, or care for your youngest and oldest, be of any less value than that of those who work in any other fields .

This whole notion runs contrary to the ideals on which not only the nation was founded, but that attracts so many to come here in the first place.

1 comment:

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