I have two blogging resolutions for this year.
The first is to write about immigration more often. It’s an issue that matters hugely to me – as far as I’m concerned, it’s the trillion-dollar bill lying on the sidewalk, the thing that’s so obvious and so important that I sometimes can’t believe we’re even talking about other stuff first. And also, conveniently, it’s something I actually know a bit about. I got out of the habit of writing about it because I used to litigate immigration cases a lot more often, and out of an abundance of caution, (and, okay, an abundance of superstition, too), I felt that I shouldn’t write about issues that were part of active cases. But now I’m older, and wiser, and spend less time on litigation, so there’s no reason to hold back.
The second resolution is to try to be more positive, at least occasionally. I know, you come here for the snark – If you wanted earnestness, you’d be reading Invisible Children’s blog instead. But a casual reader of this blog could easily get the impression that the only things in life I enjoy are Glenna Gordon’s photographs and making New York Times reporters cry, which is perhaps a bit narrow, as public personas go. And I have a vague theory that if I spring a surprise positivity attack on people who disagree with me, maybe they’ll be so shocked that they let their guards down, leaving them vulnerable to my winning logic. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
So, for today’s post, I thought I’d try to kill both birds with one stone. Namely, I’m going to write about immigration, and I’m going to do it in a positive way! Maybe! I will try! But this is already quite painful!
Anyway, to circle back to the by-now-quite-confusing title: I’ve noticed, in talking to people about immigration, that there is a significant discrepancy between the way immigration proponents and immigration skeptics think about sharing a country. Immigration skeptics tend to think that sharing a country is like sharing a cookie. Every time you share it with someone, everyone else has a little less, including you. Immigration proponents, on the other hand, think that sharing a cookie is like sharing love – the more you give, the more you have. Or, the more immigrants we allow to join our country, the more awesome country there is for everyone to enjoy. (And with better food.)
In case there’s any doubt, I’m on Team Love. Not only do I think that immigration is the right thing to do for altruistic reasons – such as enabling people to escape persecution, or poverty, or cultural norms that crush human potential into a crumpled ball and give it to the cat to play with – but also because it makes rich countries better. People are productive assets. If you allow them to live in an environment that maximizes their potential, they will do amazing things. And when someone else goes to the trouble of founding Google, we’re all better off.
I do understand where Team Cookie is coming from, though. Immigration means change, and change is scary. And there are some resources – like admission to a fancy college, for instance – that are limited. The more immigrants there are applying, the harder it will be for your kids to get in. At a macro level, that’s not a bad thing. It’s pretty awesome for America that the smartest young people in the world are willing to not only come here, but pay our universities six-figure sums of money in order to do so. But if your son has slaved his way through school, only to be fobbed off with admission to UCLA instead of Berkeley, it stings a little.
But I don’t think that’s really the problem. People can get over having to go to UCLA. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a person who was anti-immigration because of an encounter with a specific immigrant they couldn’t compete with. That’s because in this culture, we respect competition when we’re actually faced with it – when was the last time you heard someone complain that Yao Ming was doing a job that should have gone to an American? (Or, presumably, several Americans stacked on top of one another.)
The welfare state is another commonly-mentioned cookie: if we allow immigrants to come here, won’t they just swamp our public services? Personally, I find the premise of this argument extremely unconvincing – immigrants expand the population and the tax base, and create jobs, bolstering our economy’s ability to fund a social safety net. (Undocumented immigrants already subsidize social security to the tune of billions of dollars.)
But, perhaps more importantly, whether or not to allow immigrants to come to this country, and whether or not to allow them free access to the welfare state, are separate questions. (If you look closely, you will see that they are made up of not-same sets of words! Really!) If the burden on the welfare state is the real issue, there are a variety of orderly and reasonable solutions to that problem. Off the top of my head, for instance, we could deny immigrants eligibility for most social welfare programs until they become citizens (we already do this, btw), and/or have immigrants, or groups of sponsors, post a bond to cover the cost of the services our culture finds it illegitimate to deny, such as emergency-room care. Or, to put it more simply, if this is a money problem, why don’t we try solving it with money before we try solving it by shooting ourselves in the pockets?
So what is Team Love to do to convince Team Cookie? Would they, if presented with sufficient quantities of research and logic and heart-wrenching photos of the children who could be saved by allowing them access to opportunity, change their minds?
Or is the real problem something else? Something that is hard to describe, because the English language has no word for “nostalgia for a lost future in which progress would just solve one’s own problems, not other people’s”?