July 2007

Imagine that you take your family on a vacation to Disneyland, but in this imaginary situation, Disneyland works differently than in reality. In our tale, when you arrive, there are 50 different entrance lines, one for each state in the Union, and visitors are required to join the line of the state in which they were born. Of course the lines are of vastly different lengths.

The line for Floridians—because of the comparative distance to Disneyland (in California) and Disneyworld (in Florida)—is nonexistent. There is a booth, and an attendant, for sure, but there is no need to wait, you simply pay the fee and you enter the park.

On the other hand, the wait time for people from Arizona (because of its proximity), and Texas and New York (because of their populations) is between ten and fifteen years long.

People born in California don’t even have to pay a fee to enter. These people claim a uniquely inherent right to enter Disneyland, and often get angry when “dirty” Arizonans are riding one of the rides for which the Californian is waiting. “They took my seat,” the simple-minded Californians argue, feeling personally violated, while the more sophisticated realize that although any given seat-taking-Arizonan didn’t take any given Californian’s seat, the presence of so many Arizonans certainly affects the supply and demand for seats on rides.

Because the line from their respective state is so long, some visitors don’t wait. Some “illegal visitors,” as they are sometimes called, have fake California ID’s made, while others sneak in under the fence, prompting many inconvenienced Californians to lobby for an electrified, barbed-wired fence, and sharpshooters to protect the perimeter of Disneyland. A few zealous Californians even prefer to help Disneyland Host Security (DHS) guard the fence rather than enjoy the rides, claiming that DHS is failing in its job to keep potential terrorists out of Disneyland.

tv_immigrants-waiting-to-en.jpgWho would want to visit such a Disneyland? Well, given that Disneyworld has its own problems with long lines from Georgia and Mississippi (in fact, Disneyworld recently had violence break out because several Georgians who had already been admitted couldn’t find any ride operators who would serve them), most people reluctantly tolerate what has become a decreasingly pleasant experience with Disneyland.

Such is the current U.S. immigration quota system. Granted, this policy is better than the days when the lines for people from India, China, and Japan were closed entirely or from the days when the quotas for Spaniards and Italians were microscopic compared to the quotas for the English and Germans. (The ratio between quotas for Germans and Spanish during this time was 391 Germans per Spanish.)

But when Mexico has the same quota as England you have to acknowledge that the system is unfair. England has Disneyworld, why would anyone want to travel across the Atlantic to visit Disneyland? Well, some do, but not nearly as many as who want to leave Mexico for the better job market, housing market, freedoms, security, and stability of the U.S. Thus, the line from Mexico is years longer than the line from England.

Throw into the mix that people with enough dumb-luck to have been born in the U.S. claim the uniquely inherent right to be here simply because of their nativity (an immutable characteristic, arbitrary from a moral point of view).

Clearly our immigration system is broken. How can we claim to have a democracy when we exclude morally equivalent people as those who we include? Still, the purpose of this post is to propose the smallest of changes, but that would certainly make our immigration system more fair.

Lump all quotas together and put all immigrants, regardless of nation of origin, in the same line.

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It’s hard to talk about immigration without sounding like a racist. So let me just say this and get it out of the way: I think Mexicans are superior to me.

By “me,” I am referring to people who are part English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch, German, and Native American. There are three of us that I know of. I think my brother and sister would agree that we kind of suck compared to Mexicans.

Compare me to Mexicans on any dimension and I lose. For example, I like to think I’m smart, but realistically, if you pick any topic, there is at least one Mexican who knows more than me. Or is it “more than I”? I don’t know, but I guarantee there’s a Mexican somewhere who does.

And don’t get me started about common sense and street smarts. If my car breaks down someplace where my Blackberry doesn’t have signal, there’s a good chance I’ll die before I figure out how to get help. Compare that to the guy I can see from my office window, working construction down the street. He walked here from Mexico and learned how to be a carpenter just by looking at a hammer. I speak exactly one language. He’s been here a month and knows 1.1 languages. Advantage: Mexican guy.

Mexicans have great looking skin that resists sunburn. I have skin that looks like tapioca spilled on canvas, and I have to wear sunscreen to sit in front of my computer monitor.

How about durability? I can hurt my back just eating a bowl of strawberries. I wouldn’t last long picking them.

How about character? In the suburbs where I live, most people with above average incomes hire housecleaners to come once a week. It’s almost always a crew of three Mexicans. Each crew has a wad of house keys. In the 29 years I have lived in California, the total number of thefts I have heard attributed to Mexican housekeepers is zero. Now, in the interest of not incriminating yourself, compare that to your best male friend who is not a Mexican and ask yourself how many of these crimes he has committed:

– Sex with an underage girl when he was 18
– Marijuana
– Speeding
– Fudging on taxes
– Underage drinking
– Illegal copying of songs
– Driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit
– Stealing office supplies

There’s a good chance your best male friend is a frickin’criminal.

You might argue that any Mexican in this country illegally has broken a law, and that is obviously true. He is guilty of working hard so he can send money home and lift his family from wretchedness. I automatically like that kind of guy, whereas your best friend sounds like a jerk.

I can see the arguments on both sides of the immigration issue. And I’m sure I’d have a different view if I lived in some gang-infested part of Southern California. But the dirty little secret that most Californians know is that Mexican immigrants, legal or otherwise, are bringing up the national average on the “good people” meter. If that were not so obviously the case, the borders would have been shut a long time ago. I’d be down there myself with some boards and a hammer and the hope that some guy on the other side would show me how to use them.

Full article here.

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I have long been a fan of Tavis Smiley, so when I saw this interview, I had to add it to this blog. The most relevant part starts with 2:24 remaining.

What we need now in Black and Brown America is some coalition building. It is the same now as it has been for quite some time–we’re fighting over crumbs from the table. We’re fighting over a slice of the pie rather than getting our fair share of the pie, or for that matter, baking a larger pie. Things have to change in a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic America. And so I had a real issue with the woman who would not give her name because I don’t want to approach this as an issue of division, rather one of finding come common ground and building some coalitions, that’s number one. Number two, with all due respect to my black brothers and sisters, I do not know too many black folk who are truly, truly interested in doing some of the menial work, to use his word, that these immigrants do. I don’t see a bunch of brothers lining up to park cars and bus tables and wash dishes and nanny babies manicure lawns. Let’s be honest about it, everybody likes to make that argument and the irony of it is that here’s the one place where black folk, liberals, progressives (so-called), and conservatives end up in bed together, strange bed-fellows. Everybody, when they want to bastardize or demonize the immigrant says they’re taking our jobs. Who wants these jobs? Nobody wants these jobs. I can tell you right now, if these twelve million–or whatever that number is–if everyone of those immigrants just got up and walked back across the border, it would wreck our economy. It would completely wreck it and a whole lot of folk would be pulling their hair out, jumping out of windows and going crazy, ‘who’s going to nanny the baby, who’s cutting my grass?’ At the restaurant your tables can’t get bussed, your cars can’t–I live in L.A.–your car can’t get parked. I mean, it would just completely wreck our economy and we don’t want to be honest about that.

This seems the appropriate point to quote Dr. King. He said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The undocumented immigrant community has had success with this and if I can find a video clip, I’ll post it, but the immigrant community must understand that although the U.S. economy recruited you here because you are personally exploitable and expendable, if you act collectively, you are indispensable.

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bill-richardson-2.jpgIn an earlier post, I linked to this speech by Governor Richardson, delivered at Georgetown University.

A Manhattan law firm, Teplen and Associates, summarized the speech this way.

In his statement Governor Richardson outlined four steps which must be taken in order to solve this problem in a realistic fashion: 1) secure the border, 2) increase legal immigration, 3) prevent employers from hiring employees without proper work authorization, and 4) provide a path to legalization.

I responded, but Teplen and Associates does not seem to be taking comments on its blog any longer, so I will post my response here.


In order to be successful, step 2 must precede step 1.

The only way to completely secure the border is to allow people seeking employment to immigrate. People would much rather cross the border at a checkpoint than brave the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) or the hot Sonoran desert, but as long as immigrants believe these natural barriers are more navigable than our immigration laws, we will continue to have no idea who enters this country.

And in order to be moral, step 4 must precede step 3.

As long as the federal government prevents those who wish to change their legal status from doing so, the government is in essence mandating that employers discriminate based on a classification virtually indistinguishable from race.

This is a revisited speech, but I post it again because so much of the prevailing thinking in Congress is exactly backwards.

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I will start with an excerpt from the Business Week article, then discuss the lessons learned. Business Week Logo

The Gandhi Protests

Denied the permanent U.S. residency they’d been promised, high-skilled workers are taking to the streets in nonviolent protest

Engineers, computer programmers, and tech workers aren’t known for outspoken collective action and political protest. But on July 14, up to 1,000 high-skilled, legal immigrants will gather in San Jose, Calif., to express their outrage at the U.S. government’s failure to deliver on a promise to hasten the processing of their green-card applications. Many of these immigrants came to the U.S. from India on visas and have been stuck in what they say is an interminable wait for permanent residency and the freedoms it brings.

Long Delays Spur Protests

The rally follows a symbolic action on July 10 in which hundreds of green-card applicants sent flowers to the director of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services in a show of peaceful protest reminiscent of Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign against British rule before India gained independence in 1947. The idea for both the flower sending and the rally emerged from Immigration Voice, a group that advocates for high-tech immigrants in the U.S. on visas.

The green-card backlog has emerged because of a mismatch between the number of visa holders and the number of green cards available to them each year. Tens of thousands of foreign workers enter the U.S. on work visas each year, and many apply for green cards. But current government rules limit the number of people who can be admitted to the U.S. from any particular country to 9,800. The result is that for larger countries, including India and China, the wait for permanent U.S. residency now stretches for years. As they wait, visa workers are required to maintain the same job and salary, or they are bumped back to the long queue.

Get the whole article here.

Now I’d like to react to the news. The first lesson for me is this, when you are right and the government is wrong, nonviolence is the way to go. In other words, in all things related to U.S. immigration, nonviolence is the way to go. Government is accountable to its people, and when some of the people show the others that they are being mistreated and victimized (but that they will maintain a spirit of love, respect, and community), the rest will support the legal changes they seek.

Next, and while this is less groundbreaking, this article points out a fact of which few people are aware. Each country is limited in the number of emigrants who can be legally admitted to the U.S. That is called a quota. This quota system grew out of the Nations of Origin Act of 1924 which had the goal of ending immigration from Japan, just as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act had ended immigration from China. The Nations of Origin Act had the effect of severely limiting the number of Asians who could gain residency in the United States while preserving a virtually unimpeded flow of immigrants from Western and Northern Europe. The 1964 legislation (the quota system we basically operate under at the present time) changed the system somewhat by giving each country an equal quota, whereas before, countries like France had been allowed perhaps 100 times more visas per year than India. Under the 1964 legislation, France and India now had an equal number of visas. The problem comes with the fact that right now, many more Indians than French want entry to the U.S., but because these countries have the same quota, the Indian has a much harder time getting accepted than does the French. Now compare Mexico and France and you will see that just as before, the current quota system has the same intention as well as the same effect as the most racist immigration laws in our history: to allow whites to enter, while excluding people of color. The clear thing to do is to eliminate the quota system and simply collect all the visa slots into one pool.

The final lesson is that the internet is the tool to bring about immigration reform. Immigration Voice is an on-line community; it is basically a chat room. But in that chat room, people got together, discussed Gandhi, created a plan, organized, and got the U.S. Government to change its mind. I hope that your mind just opened up, because it should have.

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I saw this today on the Dreams Across America website. It’s worth sharing, so here it is.

It led me to these other immigrants:

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I recently wrote this survey to help me better understand the views of those reading this blog. Click here to take the survey.

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I have been silent for quite a long time. This is because I’ve been in Monterrey, Mexico studying Spanish. Of course, my views on immigration have been affected by this experience. I’ll share two observations here.

First, from this excellent article: “In all the video footage I have seen of people crossing illegally from Mexico, of people arrested, the faces look more Indian than Spanish. Most of the illegal immigrants from Mexico may be mestizo, racially, but Indian features predominate. And isn’t that curious? The Indians are illegally coming into the United States. Indians will always wander in the Americas and they should. One lasting effect of illegal immigration, I believe, is that we will come to see America within the Americas…. Brown illegal immigrants with Indian faces may usher the Georgian and the Virginian to a recognition that they now live within the New World—an illegal idea—and not in some distant colony of England.” I have now lived in the three major border metropolises, San Diego, El Paso, and the lower Rio Grande Valley. But not until living in Monterrey did I realize that during all that time when I was on the border, only the Morenos are present. They are living among the Anglos (or the Anglos are living among them), of course, but you will not find the Rubios or the Gueros among immigrants. Monterrey, only a two hour drive from the border, is half blonde; half the city defies racial classification. If I forget which country I’m in, I’d say they are Caucasian.

Second, if the restrictions of the border go away, most of the problems of the border will go away. Our nation would be much better if the border became more like Mexico. I love the border and will likely live my life on it, but the interior of Mexico is much closer to what most people want the U.S. to be (educated, professional, clean, wealthy) than is the border. And I’m talking about the U.S. side of the border.

Of course, if neither of these things were true, people still have the right to seek life, liberty, and property, and for many that requires coming to the U.S.

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