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Immigration—everybody’s hot-button issue--and America is once again arguing across the metaphoric back-fence and having the very devil of a time trying to balance fairness and equity. All that intemperate rhetoric in a country that has become (within a single lifetime) anything but fair and where equity goes to the highest bidder.

But the Congress of the United States is its own strange melting-pot of ideals and money, where money has always held the trump card. Now, in a self-conscious argument between the even-handed and the wall-builders, it’s messing with the ingredients of our immigrant melting-pot.

As usual, it’s doing a bad job of it. But that's representative government, always messy and boisterous.

American immigration policy served our nation's first couple hundred years unashamedly filling in the potholes of need. Chinese built the railroads and the Harriman trusts didn’t much care if they had schools or health care or even survived. Italians and Greeks, Irish and Czechoslovaks, Germans and Swedes, came to fill the need for farmers in Minnesota, meat packers in Chicago or whatever the market required at the time.

Now the market is long on burger-flippers and short on software geniuses, CEOs with international reputations, scientists and yes, apparently even soccer-stars from Britain. The Brits can keep their fans--too rowdy a bunch, but we’ll take a star or two.

We’re feeling (some of us anyway) guilty about the change in venue, still thinking ‘send us your poor, your huddled masses’ ought not to be reordered to ‘send us your best talent.’

It's logical to ask, why the guilt? The planet is overwhelmed with the poor and huddled and the plain fact is that a larger and larger portion of America is poor and huddled as well. Our Congress, unable to solve homelessness and health care, has decided that it can meddle quite conveniently in immigration and make itself feel better.

When Congress can't solve a problem, it declares a different problem.

Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, unable to oversee the government, much less confront and reform it (as is its mandate), hauls Roger Clemens. Waxman et al thereby demonstrates their vast (or half-vast) interest in the butts of Major League ballplayers.

If there’s anything a legislator cherishes, it’s the ability to stand up and salute the flag of equality, while serving any special interested in paying him (or her) sufficiently. Their saving grace is that they come surprisingly cheap and, in the end, the interests of Microsoft and the New  York Yankees are efficiently served.
(Washington Post 5-26-07) For years, foreign-born Nobel Prize winners, corporate officers, and top talents in sports, arts and sciences have had a fast track to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, in the United States. In the name of attracting the world's greatest and brightest, authorities have granted these luminaries priority access to green cards under a little-known provision offered to "aliens of extraordinary abilities."
Beam me up, Scotty.
It has provided a way for a host of notable foreigners -- among them John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Venezuelan-born New York Yankee Bobby Abreu -- to make America their home.
Bobby Abreu? Yoko and John? These are the best examples WaPo could come up with? C’mon, guys, I’m trying to make a point here and you’ve left me high and dry without so much as a mention of John Kenneth Galbraith, Albert Einstein and Bob Hope?
But the bill now being debated in Congress would do away with the special "EB-1" preferred-status category, effectively forcing foreign VIPs to take a number and get in line with everyone else. . . Although the bill has come under fire from some who call it elitist -- it would tip the scales toward better-educated immigrants with good English -- the elimination of the EB-1 category would effectively mean that the most elite foreigners seeking to build lives in the United States would face new hurdles.
You got a problem with elitist?

I ask you, what is more ‘American’ than buying your way to the head of the line? What are $5,000 Super-Bowl tickets, if not the rich buying their way to the head of the line? Football is a uniquely lower middle-class sport and all you need do is attend a Packers or Bears game to prove it. The rich are up there in their sky-boxes, watching it on TV with a little Dom Perignon and pate, while the hard-core fan is sloshing beer on the guy next to him and freezing his ass off in complete ecstasy.

But come Super-Bowl time, you think there were actually any Giants or Patriot fans out there in the stadium? Not on your life. Not unless they took out a sub-prime mortgage to get there.
Leading critics of the bill say it is fraught with problems for top universities, Fortune 500 companies, sports recruiters and cultural institutions seeking to lure global leaders in their fields to work in the United States. . . They note that even Nobel Prize winners occasionally have weak English skills, while highly skilled athletes and musicians often bypass traditional schooling and do not possess high school diplomas or university degrees.
Ah, ‘leading critics?’ Whatever would we do without leading critics. They're always there for the small issues. Possibly these are the same guys who let the USA Patriot Act slip by a mere six weeks after 9-11 without a whimper (and without anyone even reading it).

Immigration be damned, the Patriot Act consistently prevents businessmen from getting into and out of America to meet with companies they’ve been close to for decades. That most un-patriotic of sham-legislations has virtually marooned current American citizens abroad, screwing up their banking  lives and essentially treating them like terrorists, drug-dealers or money-launderers.

Where were the leading critics then? Or s ince then?

But I digress. Living in Europe has made me sensitive to much that Americans domiciled in the actual country (which they have come to call a 'homeland' while I was gone) are unaware. Things like universal hatred of our aggression and a dollar that has become a laughingstock among currencies. (Tear yourself away from diatribe, Jim and get back to the issue at hand)

America acts consistently in what it believes to be its own interests. Those don’t always turn out to be correctly chosen, but the self-interest behind them is logical and helps the world to understand us. It’s a necessary thing for the effective advance of foreign affairs and what could be a more foreign affair than immigration?
Last year, 36,960 individuals and family members were granted "priority" permanent resident status under the "extraordinary abilities" category. Under the 100-point system established by the bill, "extraordinary or ordinary" ability in a specialized field would offer, at most, eight additional points to a candidate. That is less than the 10 points that would be awarded to applicants holding a two-year college degree.
Uh-huh. Even at that rate, companies and universities are woefully shortchanged in their needs. And the applicants are out there, panting to get in. The best and brightest (including those with a 98 mph fastball) are at the gates, lost among the total 1.5 million annual legal immigrants. What’s that, 2.5%?
"Every effort has been made to create a balanced system," said a Senate Republican leadership aide who demanded anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
One of the things I’ve noticed along my circuitous road through life, is that whenever a politician (or their aide) has a good idea, they are all in a sweat to call a press-conference and bask in the sun of momentary approval. There is so little approval to go around in Washington.

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Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
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