President Trump’s latest stand on immigration is that applicants with good education and wealth are welcome, while those who would need public assistance will be denied a home in our land of opportunities.
At first, this sounds all too reasonable. After all, most nations aspire to reap the best crops and leave the “trash” for someone else to worry about. Comments that we should take care of our own folks with needs rather than admitting people who demand handouts at the cost of higher taxes to everyone also strikes a common chord.
However, looking a little deeper exposes weak points in the above policies.
Skimming the world for what seems to be the best for us to grab, and to benefit from, would create a “brain drain” in other parts of the world, potentially widening the technological and financial gap between countries, and impairing the upward move of masses of people from the Third World into the rank of developing nations. Persistent poverty and oppression in various corners of the Earth will continue to foster regional conflicts and insecurity at the global level, a problem that no border wall can solve.
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Another shortsightedness is misunderstanding the true nature of human beings. Importing “the best” for now does not necessarily guarantee our future social success. Education and wealth are often the result of an inherited aristocracy or a systemic meritocracy, and do not necessarily reflect the moral character and spiritual strength of an individual. Some rich immigrants may come with exaggerated demands for the privileges they expect they should have since they “paid” to get into the United States.
On the other hand, courage, resilience, and hard work are more often found in those who have endured hardship and have their survival skills put to the test, whether it was to escape persecution or poverty. These are the qualities that our earlier immigrant forefathers, mothers or grandparents brought to America, lest we forget. More recently, we have Sergey Brin (Goggle CEO, whose family immigrated from the USSR to escape Jewish persecution), and Hamdi Ulukaya (a Muslim Kurdish shepherd in his youth, and now CEO of the Chobani Greek yogurt company), just to name a few we can be thankful for.
Poor immigrants are prepared to work their way up, to remember their humble roots, and many will pass their work ethic onto their US-born children. Yes, some immigrants will need short-term public assistance to settle in a strange new land. But many studies have confirmed that the majority of immigrants, especially in their second generation, will end up contributing a lot more to society than they draw from. Yes, we should address the needs of our own, less fortunate citizens. But by wisely cultivating the vast stretches of land across this continent, by better management of our economic and human resources, and by using the creativity we have to solve ever-emerging problems, I believe there is room for being generous to everyone in need.
Selecting immigrants solely on the basis of their potential to improve wealth in the US is essentially a policy that reduces human lives to economic commodities – whose value is to be dealt with and traded on open markets for immediate national gains. It is like looking for sweet business deals with no moral basis.
I think we can be, and can do, better.
Chinh Le lives in Corvallis.