Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Immigrant Talks About Immigration

I was born in Beijing. Shortly after I was born, my parents left for the United States so my dad could continue his studies. I arrived in the US three years later. I only have two memories of life before I came to the States. One was standing in a stairwell with a bright red exit sign with my grandparents. The other was the airplane ride that brought me stateside. I remember them serving peanuts mid-flight. That's it.

My grandparents flew over to visit my family a few times during my childhood. And to be honest, I didn't much care for those visits. They were people who I rarely ever saw, speaking a language I could barely understand. My parents never let me forget that we were blood, but aside from a grudging acceptance of that fact, I never felt any bond. It's safe to say that I was an American before my parents ever filed for my N-400.

And now that I'm knocking on the door of 25 years of existence in this world, I think it's safe to say that I am a successful American. I have a 4 year degree from a prestigious college. I am a software developer, a well regarded profession, for a Fortune 500 company. I contribute heavily to my 401k, Roth IRA, and taxable brokerage accounts. I have a mortgage on a condo whose value has increased greatly since I bought it 2 years ago near the trough of the local real estate market. By any reasonable socioeconomic or financial measure, I have "made it". A true success story.

A true American success story, that is. Because if I had been raised in any other country, I don't think it's very likely that I would have had anywhere close to the same level of success that I currently have. Had my family stayed in China, the best case scenario for me would be becoming a midlevel government bureaucrat after nearly 2 decades of exhaustive rote study, with maybe one fifth of the purchasing power that I currently enjoy.

If my parents had moved to Western Europe, with their inflexible labor markets and dogmatic preference for "home grown" candidates, there is still a chance that I could have turned out similarly. But it's a much smaller chance. The only other country that comes close to the US is Canada. And Canada is just America's hat. So basically, what I'm trying to say is... USA! USA! USA!

In the full flush of the President's reelection victory, the Obama Administration is eyeing comprehensive immigration reform for its second term signature accomplishment. And they just might have the votes in Congress to pull it off. The only hitch that could muck things up is the provisions for the ~11 million illegal immigrants who currently live in the shadows and whether they could have a path to legal status and citizenship.

One of the more common arguments you'll hear opponents of comprehensive immigration reform say is that "amnesty" for the illegal immigrants would punish all the immigrants who have successfully negotiated or are currently negotiating the labyrinth that is the US immigration system. To those people, I have two words: go away.

Our current immigration system only provides for foreigners who are either rich, famous, smart (and credentialed), professional athletes, or have immediate family who are currently legal permanent residents within the US. For everybody else, unless they win one of the 55,000 slots for permanent residency through the annual Green Card Lottery, there is no legal pathway to permanent residency (and citizenship) in the United States.

My parents were smart and credentialed. That's why the US government approved their immigrant visas. And I am extremely grateful that they were smart and credentialed, because if they weren't, I would still be in China. But I'm not. And the only reason I'm not is because I had the great fortune of being born to two extraordinarily intelligent and hard working people.

Fortune does not shine on most newborns that way. The vast majority of them are born to poor and poorly educated parents in some undeveloped country that no sane American would ever want to live in. The vast majority are consigned to a life of relative deprivation. And who are we, the immigrants and children of immigrants living in a fabulously wealthy country by sheer dint of luck, to deny other people the same opportunity to prosper as we did?

The people who dream of coming to these hallowed shores don't also dream of leeching off our welfare system. They dream of coming here and succeeding on their own merits in a system where merit can actually take you places. And the same goes for the illegal immigrants who crossed our borders, not in an act of defiance for our country's laws, but out of desperation and hope.

This nation's institutions and laws are not perfect. And sometimes civil disobedience in the face of an unjust law is both necessary and proper to ensure that the founding principle of this great country continues to persist. Our Republic was conceived on the principle that all men are created equal. That men have rights and freedoms endowed not by other men nor their various creations, but from Providence on high. It's time that our nation's laws better reflected that principle.


  1. An exceptional individual, the product of two exceptional individuals, was able to create for himself an exceptional life in America. I don't understand the need to bring in the unexceptional. I say this as the first born son of an immigrant.

    1. There are plenty of unexceptional kids born to unexceptional individuals who automatically get to become US citizens so long as they are born on the right side of an imaginary line.

      I think most people who are willing to immigrate to improve their life are exceptional in at least that way (there are plenty of people who are comfortable in their misery). And I don't think of humans as liabilities. They're capital assets when you think in terms of a national economy.

      And an unexceptional person living in the US will be vastly more productive and better off than an unexceptional person living in say...Somalia.

  2. Point one is well taken. It is the prevalence of those unexceptional individuals which causes me to be closed to the idea of allowing more in. At some point, I would argue, most are descended from immigrants. Either the family line has degenerated or they have always been unexceptional.

    Perhaps if we had a more robust education system whose standards were at least that of the 30's, I would be more open to the idea. Perhaps even further back. Your average man was better educated in a 19th century single room schoolhouse.

    I think individuals who show a certain dearth of faculty, when given enough freedom, are liabilities. Especially they are driven a little too much by epithumia.

    I'm not making platitudes against the welfare state, economic considerations haven't entered my mind.