As many of you know, I’m an American-by-choice. Until right about five years ago, I was the citizen of a large-ish Western European country whose name rhymes with “Bermany”. As a former immigrant, Resident Alien/Permanent Resident, and aspiring citizen, I have years and years of experience with the government agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.
As someone with some exposure to the current system of admitting and incorporating foreigners into this country, I feel qualified to say that the immigration policies of the United States are not serving the country too terribly well, to put it mildly.
Now, I’ve never had a particularly hard time with the former INS. I filed my I- and N-whatever forms as required, paid my fees, got prodded by a government-appointed doctor, proved my financial stability and language proficiency, and waited my required months and years for the official mill to grind. I’ve never been treated in a discourteous fashion, and have—on occasion—been skipped to the front of the line. (When I showed up at the Memphis regional office for my citizenship interview, for example, I walked into the full waiting room, and was called in almost as soon as I had taken one of the few remaining empty seats—last to walk in, first one to be called up. Interestingly enough, I was also the only Anglo in the room.) For the most part, my dealings with the INS were uniformly smooth sailing, comparatively speaking. Still, the best day in all of my interactions with the friendly folks from the Immigration Service was the day I turned in my Green Card, just before taking the oath of allegiance in Federal court to become a citizen.
In contrast, there’s a friend of ours who is also a foreign national desiring to become a legal and sanctioned resident of this country. She, too, has filled out her forms on time, paid her fees, and waited in line to get prodded and poked. Unlike me, however, she has not received a whole lot of courteous treatment from the immigration officials. When applying for a student visa at our embassy in her own country, she was told point-blank by the female U.S. consular official that “you people just want to come to America to get pregnant, stay, and take our money.” In her dealings with the INS/CIS, she’s been talked to like a retarded child (despite speaking English natively), communicated with in sign language, or merely pointed in the desired direction without the courtesy of a verbal acknowledgement of her politely phrased question.
Our friend is better educated than I am (she holds a doctorate now), better off financially (without taking a dime in American taxpayer money in her life), and with better English than mine (she speaks the Queen’s English, whereas I sound like a linguistically slightly more gifted version of Arnie the Governator). Yet, throughout our respective dealings with the INS, I’ve been treated with much more respect, courtesy, and efficiency than our friend.
The difference between us? I’m a white (former) European who looks like any guy on the street in Minneapolis…and she’s a black woman from Nigeria.
Our friend has been in this country for over half a decade, attending American schools and paying her own way. She’s working in a profession whose practitioners are in very high demand, thanks to the ever-increasing demand on medical and rehabilitation services by the older generation. In fact, she’s the only specialist in her field at the facility where she works, and the only doctor in her field in the entire county.
Yet the Immigration service has been dicking her around for years, and her application for a Green Card or just a visa extension have disappeared in the bureaucratic fog without a word of feedback. Now her work visa is due to expire in a few months, and the status of her application is still “In Process”, and has been since 2005.
This is a person who’s a net gain to our society. She’s a hard-working, educated individual who speaks the language and follows the laws. Her skill set is very much in demand here, and she pays her own way without relying on public money in any way. Yet our immigration service is so unresponsive that she’s looking at relocation, because she doesn’t know if the application she filed almost five years ago has even been looked at by a human being yet, much less advanced to the next stage of the process. She has to put her career on hold, sell her house, and pull up roots again, and we will lose a skilled worker who’s spending her time fixing up America’s sick and injured folks.
Where’s the sense in that? I mean, if some white dude with an abbreviated college education and moderate IT skills can take Easy Street to naturalization (comparatively speaking), why is it that an educated medical professional from Africa can’t even get the courtesy of a yes/no answer on her application for a work visa before her time for legally staying in this country expires? Is that in the best interest of our country, and the best way to handle the immigration issue?
The funny thing is that our friend is perfectly capable of cheating the system. She has the money to pay some guy off the streets of the poverty-stricken county where she works to marry her and/or knock her up. Instead, she has adhered to the law every step along the way.
In countries like the UK or Australia, they have a points system for determining someone’s eligibility for immigrating. The better your education, and the more needed your profession, the higher you score. Achieve a certain score, and you get your work visa or residency. Transparent, objective, and effective. In contrast, our system leaves a lot of room for subjective decisions…such as the personal prejudices of the official working on your visa application, who thinks that “your kind” only wants to come to America to make babies and collect welfare.
For most of this country’s history, our immigration policy has been “Can you hop off the boat under your own power?” It’s only when the folks in charge decided that the wrongly-hued or wrongly-believing people were getting too many, that the gangway was pulled up, and the cries of “The boat is full!” started sounding. It seems to be a tradition that every group of immigrants, once settled, spent a lot of time and effort keeping the next group of immigrants from contaminating the American Stew. The Irish faced their share of discrimination, for example (“No Dogs Or Irish!”), and when folks were mostly satisfied that the Micks weren’t going to turn our WASPy paradise into an outpost of rampant potato-munching and whiskey-swilling Popery, the Irish joined forces with the rest to keep the swarthy wops out. When the Italians were in, everyone turned against the Chinese and Japanese, and so on. In the end, the entire “regional quota” system by which we issue visas only shows that we’re more concerned about keeping the color palette balanced, than considering what’s actually beneficial to the country as a whole. And that’s how a medical professional with a doctorate can rate the same in importance as an unskilled laborer, just because they both have a passport from a sub-Saharan African country, and dark skin.
The professional in question, educated partly in American colleges, will be forced to take her skills and her knowledge, and leave the country. Some other country will benefit from her intellect and her labor. Sure, the U.S. college that gave her the doctorate got a lot of tuition money, but the lost income tax alone will more than negate that temporary cash infusion…never mind the loss of a highly-trained professional who is so much in demand by our health system that she could pick her job anywhere in the country if the U.S.CIS would let her.
And that, friends and neighbors, is a sad state of affairs, and a bad way to make immigration policy. We shouldn’t be surprised when other countries start kicking our asses in the world economy if we’re not willing to give a chance to the world’s best and brightest, just because they happen to hail from the wrong area, or have the wrong melanin content in their skin.