The idea of a merit-based points system for immigration sees people as cogs in a money machine. Whatever happened to seeking a better life?
When the White House this week dismissed the words on the Statue of Liberty as being “added later,” I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather.
When he sailed second-class into Ellis Island, in 1906, the words about huddled masses seeking “the golden door” were no afterthought. The plaque with the poem had been installed just three years earlier, amid one of the great immigration waves in American history.
He had $60 and came from Australia to preach the gospel. He had been sermonizing on horseback around the Aussie logging camps when he realized his colonial country was a dead end — because it mostly excluded its own masses from furthering their educations.
America, famously, did not. That’s what the lamp beside the golden door meant to him. And a powerful light it must have been. He saw it from 13,000 nautical miles away.
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I bring all this up because my grandfather would be barred from entering the country under President Donald Trump’s proposed new “merit-based” immigration rules.
If similar rules were in effect back then, he would have been far too thinly educated and poor to make the cut.
It’s hard to overstate how radical a change the new immigration rules would be. They turn the entire premise, and promise, of America on its head.
The easiest way to see this is to do what I did: Take your own family’s immigration story, apply the new rules to it (broadly speaking), and see if you’d still be here.
Here’s how Trumpmerica would work: You’d need 30 total points to even be considered for admittance.
Priority is given to prime working ages. Someone aged 18 through 21 gets six points, ages 22 through 25 gets eight points and ages 26 through 30 get 10 points.
The points then decrease by two every five years. After 50 you get zero. My grandfather, who was 31 when he got here, gets eight points.
Scores on a test of English proficiency earn from zero to 12 points (I’ll give my grandfather a 12).
Being educated already gets you from one point (high school), five points (college), eight points (a master’s in science, tech, engineering or math, or STEM) to up to 13 points (for a doctorate STEM degree). My granddad earns a zero (his standard schooling had ended when he was 15).
Finally, you get points if you have a job offer, but only a high-paying one. A job paying 150 percent of the median income earns you five points (in Seattle that’s $120,000 a year.) While a job paying 300 percent of median ($240K!) gets you 13 points.
The math here is brutally elitist — even if you aren’t an itinerant preacher like my grandfather. To get to 30 points, you have to already be at least a youngish college graduate who speaks perfect English and has a job lined up for $120K or more.
Land of opportunity? More like the land of the already arrived.
If you got in on a student visa (these are work-visa rules), once you’re done with college you’d still need a job paying at least 150 percent of the median — or you’d have to leave.
Oh I forgot: You can get additional points if you “agree to invest the equivalent of $1,350,000 in foreign currency in a new commercial enterprise.” So you could buy your way in.
The gate-closing aspect of this is blatant; it’s been pointed out that even Trump’s own grandfather wouldn’t have gotten past Ellis Island. Ditto the father of GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (who, Cruz’s official website says, arrived from Cuba “penniless and not speaking a word of English”).
I realize the Horatio Alger story is, mostly, a gauzy myth. And that the ideals of America can and should evolve to reflect the modern world. But this classist, corporatist proposal makes a mockery of both.
If we no longer mean a word of what that pesky poem says, maybe we should just change it:
“Give me your privileged, your professionals,
Your STEM grads yearning to sling code,
The liquid capital of your gainful shores (provided it converts to no less than $1.35 million U.S.);
Send these, your assets, the gentrified, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the gated community!”