The Lady in the Harbor

This commentary aired on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered on June 7, 2007. You can listen to it here.

According to the White House, the new immigration bill will “Help Keep The U.S. Competitive In The Global Economy By Establishing A New Merit-Based System For Immigration That Is Similar To Those Used By Other Countries.”

And how is it going to do that?

There’s going to be a point system to determine who gets one of the precious 380,000 visas that are up for grabs. Highly educated people get points. People with skills that are in high demand, whatever that means, get points. Young but not too young? Points. Speak English well? More points for you. Speak it badly, fewer points. Don’t speak it at all? No points.

People with the highest point totals get the visas.

Some people complain that the Bush Administration is too free market. But the idea that Washington bureaucrats can figure out which skills are in high demand is an idea straight out of the old Soviet Union. It would be great if we could get some old communists from the politburo to administer it, but we won’t be able to. They won’t score high enough on the point system to get a visa.

The whole thing’s pretty inspiring isn’t it?

We once believed in a lady in the harbor with a lamp beside the golden door.

She said “send me your tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” She welcomed the wretched and the homeless. Now it’s “send me your tired huddled masses as long as they’re software developers, 25-39 years old and can already speak English.” So modern. So utilitarian. So ugly.

Here’s an idea. If we care so much about keeping the US competitive in the global economy, we can do more than just keep the wrong people out. Let’s make existing residents prove they’re worthy of staying here.

Surely some of us aren’t pulling our economic weight. Surely some of us are a burden on the school system and the health care system and the law enforcement community. Surely some of us are not contributing to that elusive, uplifting goal of a competitive work force competing in the global economy.

We need a point system. Get one of the top 380,000 scores and we’re sending you back to where you or your ancestors came from-where you can drag down our so-called economic competitors.

Speak English with an accent? Five points. Make less than the median income? Twenty points. About to go on social security? Twenty five points. Watch more than ten hours of television a week? Ten points. English major in college? Five points. Obese? Ten points.

And if you’re a Senator or President who thinks we should micromanage immigration to sustain our global competitiveness, whatever that means? One hundred points. A perfect score. Go get a real job where you contribute to the richness of American life instead of trying to tear it down.

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