Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Immigration and the American Dream: Merit, Class, or Wealth?

Guest Blogger: Nubyaan Scott, third-year law student, University of San Francisco:
If you are an American who is reading this article, what is your vision for immigration? Many of us believe in the fact that our current system is ineffective and that reform is necessary. However, in order to reform something, you must have a vision for the result. We should first decide what we want the act of gaining American citizenship to mean to others and to us. In our current system, immigration is effectively divided into three categories: merit, class, and wealth. Merit is based on the idea of the American Dream and America as a meritocracy.
Meritocracy: an elite group of people whose progress is based
 on ability and talent rather than on class, privilege, or wealth.
If the phrase “elite group” is a little off-putting at first glance, let me clear that up for you.
Elite: the choice or best of anything considered  
collectively, as of a group or class of persons.
Whether unwittingly or otherwise, we certainly belong to an elitist culture. From our sports teams, to our military, to our position as “moral compass” of the earth; America as a whole is the self-proclaimed elite. Some people have argued that the American Dream is dead, while others claim to be living it. Regardless of that, many, if not most of the people who immigrate to the United States of America still believe in the American Dream. And, for many, America equals “the sky is the limit,” while their country of origin equals “the limit is the sky.” The magic and promise of the American Dream enforces the idea that no matter your assigned caste, it is talent and ability that will uplift you into the elite; or at least into the freedom to live as you wish.
And, then we have the class issue. The business side of immigration seems mostly to be based around class. People who work in that side of immigration are primarily concerned with the preservation of the system that will allow the educated class of other countries to immigrate to the U.S. Even our government seems primarily to be concerned with the effects of immigration reform on the business class. This is likely due to the prevailing idea that these people are going to bring money into the U.S. economy. And, that they generally require little-to-no investment by the American government, because they fly in on a Monday and become a part of the 1% by Tuesday afternoon. For many corporations and members of our government, this is what most of our immigration reform efforts should be supporting. The prevailing opinion is that we should relax regulation as much as possible in order to maintain or even increase the presence of this class of immigrants and potential American citizens.
Then, you have the group of individuals who due to wealth are able to give their children the gift of dual citizenship, at birth. Within this group of people, American citizenship is often considered a valuable asset that is not necessarily tied to starry-eyed ideas of the promise of the American Dream. Whether or not this group believes that America is in fact the elite, they nevertheless see value in belonging to our group.* Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with this subject, I’ll provide a brief explanation. Wealthy people who are not U.S. citizens will sometimes (for the reasons mentioned above) decide that their children should be U.S. citizens. And, the easiest way to be afforded that opportunity is to simply be born in the U.S. So, these individuals will often hire companies to arrange for them to give birth in the United States. Things like plane tickets, car services, hotels, nurses, and even hospital stays can be booked ahead of time. And, a woman will fly to America during the last weeks of her last trimester (which of course requires very little documentation, because she is only considered a visitor), and be a tourist until she goes into labor. The woman and her family often will only stay in the U.S. long enough for them to receive a birth certificate, and their child to be cleared to fly. At which point they return to their country of origin. The newly born U.S. citizen may in the future never choose to live in (or visit) the United States; or, they may choose to attend college here (and potentially receive in-state tuition). The point is that they are given an opportunity to choose. And, that is the value that their parents understand.  
*I realize that the tone of this section (& possibly the entire piece)  
may come off as a tad xenophobic or anti-immigrant. I just want to clarify  
that I hold neither of those positions. My only goal is to encourage people
 to look below the surface of immigration (and reform) and hopefully  
develop or expand their opinions on the subject.
Now that I have parsed out my idea of the divisions in our immigration system, I think it would be helpful to provide examples of how these divisions could likely affect real lives. Especially since I think most Americans do not understand the practical barriers of American citizenship for the most demonized group of immigrants (those who enter illegally). For purposes of my argument, I will assign a name and brief background to each category discussed above. I’ll start with Mohinder Meritocracy.  
Mohinder Meritocracy

Mohinder is devoted to the idea of becoming an American citizen. He is twenty years old, from an incredibly impoverished community and has the equivalent of a ninth grade education. He has saved up enough money to miraculously convince the U.S. embassy to issue him a visitor's visa to the U.s., and he takes a flight to the U.S. Mohinder fully intends on staying in the U.S. after he lands, but he doesn’t have the resources or knowledge needed to apply for lawful permanent residence or a work visa. Mohinder’s plan is to live with his U.S. citizen sister who is ten years older. They have kept in loose contact over the years, and though she has very little resources herself, she is willing to help him pursue his dreams of citizenship. Mohinder and his sister research what it would take for him to become an American citizen.  
They decide that their best choice is for her to apply for a Family-based Immigrant Visa on his behalf. Due to the amount of processing time that it takes for siblings who apply, Mohinder would likely have to wait more than a decade to receive a green card (which would be the first real step in his path to citizenship). So, he decides that his best chance for advancement is to save up as much money as he can working without authorization in the U.S., before returning to India to apply for a green card.  Mohinder works various jobs and earns below minimum wage over the next 10 years, in order to save enough money to attend school when he returns to India.  
Mohinder decides that he is ready to return to India and begin school, and he manages to do so safely. Because he was undocumented in the U.S. for more than a year, he is subject to the 10-year bar from returning, but he is waiting for his priority date based on his sister's family based petition for him to be reached anyway.  Mohinder starts his schooling and eventually graduates and starts a small restaurant which he also lives in. While he is interested in marrying and starting a family, he decides not to because he does not want to take the chance that his new family would have even more difficulty becoming citizens. Now thirty-five, Mohinder gets notification that his priority date is reached, and he can process his immigrant visa application. Mohinder returns to the U.S. and is now one step closer to U.S. citizenship, as a legal permanent resident. After another 5 years, Mohinder now qualifies to become a U.S. Citizen. At this point, Mohinder is gainfully employed, engaged, and living on his own. He is able to be naturalized as an American citizen, and is now ready to invest in his future by purchasing a home and getting married; he is now 42 years old.
Huan Classy
Huan Classy is 22 years old and comes from an upper middle-class family in China. His parents were able to afford his college education, and Huan has degrees in computer science and engineering. Due to the connections he made in college, and help from his parents, Huan can afford to develop an innovative App that catches the eye of several Fortune 500 companies in the Silicon Valley. After getting several offers of employment, Huan decides on the company that has had the most success getting Employment-based Immigrant Visas. After a few years, Huan is granted a green card and is a lawful permanent resident. He begins his work in the U.S. and participates in several technological advances over the next five years.  Huan is then on his way to American citizenship. Now 30, Huan is wealthy established, and has a healthy portfolio of diversified investments. By the time he completes the citizenship process, he is 35, and married with a baby on the way. Huan’s children will of course also be American citizens, and his family is now a part of the American upper class.
Rosa Wealthy
Rosa was born in the United States, so she is an American citizen. She comes from a remarkably wealthy family in Brazil that arranged for her birth in the U.S. At 18, Rosa decided that she would like to attend school in the U.S. After being accepted to Stanford, Rosa’s parents purchased a home in Palo Alto for her, and she moves in before the start of her freshman year. After earning her MBA, Rosa moves back to Brazil, but decides to keep her home in Palo Alto. Rosa eventually invests millions of dollars in residential property in New York City, and Los Angeles as well. Rosa visits the U.S. annually, but doesn’t desire to live here, as her family all reside in Brazil. However, as a U.S. citizen, Rosa is able to assist some relatives in gaining green cards, and potential citizenship as well.
While these individuals may seem to have very different incentives and diverse backgrounds, they actually share common motivations. They seek American citizenship because they value the increased choices and opportunities that come along with it. That is, arguably, the inherent value in citizenship in this country. So, the question we have to decide on is whether we want a group of people with ultimately the same motivations to be led down such different paths, mainly based on a combination of luck and what advantages they may or may not have. Is this what we want American citizenship to be? If so, we are effectively telling the world that because we value citizenship in our country so greatly, if you lack class or wealth (or extenuating circumstances; i.e. asylum cases), in many cases you must plan and devote decades of your life to becoming “one of us.” Some would say that is actually devaluing what it means to be American; that it can simply be bought like a label. If so, then there in fact is no American dream and our beloved meritocracy is actually a delusion.


| Permalink


Post a comment