It’s never a good idea to believe the “common wisdom” of the day. ‘Cause – more often than not – it’s wrong. Today’s challenge to common wisdom “wisdom” is on the subject of immigration and a couple of realities therein that you might not be aware of. Or, more properly, “of which you might not be aware.” (Thank you, Mrs. Kirk – 4th grade)
Did you know you can buy American citizenship? I had not been so informed until something crossed my path this week about “investor visas.” Thousands of wealthy foreigners are using that side door to immigration each year. It’s called the “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.”
Here’s how it works. EB-5 allows overseas investors conditional visas – for them and their families – to live, work and go to school here. The fine print is this: they must invest $1 million or more in a new or recently created business or put $500,000 in one in a rural or high unemployment area. The investment must create or preserve at least 10 full time jobs for American workers within two years. Any conditions unmet can mean deportation. But – if all goes well – EB-5 investors get permanent resident status and can apply for full citizenship in three years.
One such fellow who did this is a Canadian – Jordan Gagner. His wife had health problems which required her living in a warmer climate. So he bought a small Washington State assisted living facility, put it in the hands of a good manager and moved himself and family to Arizona. Now they have green cards and the kids are back in school.
Since 1990, about 12,000 well-fixed immigrants have used this form of entry and 39% eventually got full citizenship. With the rise in wealth in parts of Asia in recent years, affluent Chinese alone accounted for 70% of the 3,500 investor visas issued in 2011. The State Department expects the program’s quota of 10,000 visas annually to be filled for the first time in the next year or two. Not exactly migrant workers we hear so much about.
And that leads to a second fact not getting much attention in today’s common wisdom immigration story. We hear all the dire warnings that we are at risk of being overwhelmed by Hispanic and Muslim newcomers. Well, Virginia, the “common wisdom” needs to yield to fact once again.
The largest group of foreign-born coming into this country is neither of these. In 2010, 36% of newcomers were Asian compared to 31% Hispanic. And the percentage difference is widening. A decade ago, 19% of the incoming were Asian and 59% Hispanic. The number of new Muslim immigrants hardly moved the needle.
Two facts to consider here. First, far, far more people are entering this country legally than not. And most of them are not Hispanic. Which makes dealing with issues of immigration more complicated and diverse than just rounding up illegals and shipping them home. ‘Cause “home” can involve a lot more countries than Mexico. A lot more politics. Most newcomers are here legally and coming at a much faster pace than ever.
Second, future immigration policy is more likely to be shaped by the effects of Asian immigration than any other single factor. There will be more of them at the polls this November. And next November. And the next and the next and the next. Narrow-minded politicians who want to play fast-and-loose with immigration policy, using simplistic answers to complex problems, do so at their own peril. Voices of the voters at home are coming increasingly from people who speak our language with an accent.
Then there’s this. In recent days we’ve heard lots of outcry – mostly Republican – faulting President Obama’s decision to allow children of illegal immigrants to stave off immediate deportation by meeting certain requirements. As in so many other issues in these unnecessarily partisan times, those voices are not listening to the voices that really count. The voters at home.
A Bloomberg Poll out a week after the President’s announcement found 64% supported the immigration change. And those Independent voters – the ones everybody is trying to attract – well, those folks went for the idea by – 64%. That ain’t no whisper, guys.
As in abortion, women’s rights, union busting, foreign wars and all the other politicized, oversimplified subjects being tossed around these days, the matter of immigration – what to do about it, how to control it, how to deal with lawbreakers – is a far more complicated than it appears. Those who continue their “America for Americans” rants, the “English only” and “close the borders” crowds need to be ignored. None of that is going to happen. Not now. Not ever.
We are – as we have always been – a land of immigrants. As long as our flame burns brighter than any other country’s, that won’t change. What’s necessary is a legitimate, legal and flexible immigration program so people coming and people already here are playing by the same rules. ‘Cause they’re going to keep coming.
Whatever your heritage, we are a nation of rules. The shouting right wing and other protesters opposing immigrants wanting what we have ought to shut up. And read some of those rules.