SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Hard choices on immigration
Scripps Howard News Service


June 06, 2007

WASHINGTON -- There's an old story about the immigrant seeking permanent residence in the United States. As he is moving through the line, the agent asks if he has any special skills.

"Ya shure," he replies. "I'm a diesel fitter."

The agent takes out his job book and quickly finds a priority listing for that occupation and excitedly approves the prospective immigrant's application for entry, noting that diesel fitters are much in demand. Then he turns to the next person in line and asks him, "What do you do?"

"Vell," the man says, "I verk in a panty-hose factory ver I stitch da crotches in da hoses."

"I'm sorry," the agent says not unkindly, "your abilities aren't quite what we're seeking."

"But you let in my friend Sven and he verks right next to me on da line."

The agent patiently tries to explain that, after all, Sven is a diesel fitter and they are in short supply.

"Ya shure," the bewildered immigrant says. "I stitch da hose and he take dem, stretches dem out and says, 'Ya, dese'll fit her!' "

Under the controversial "compromise" immigration bill now being debated in Congress, neither Sven nor his fellow worker would be granted any priority status even if there were a shortage of panty-hose workers. The bill establishes a point system that shifts the traditional immigration policy from reunifying the family to improving the nation's ability to compete in the 21st-century global economy.

The new system, pushed by the White House and Republicans in Congress, would focus on what background and experience prospective immigrants might bring to this country with the emphasis being on a better-educated, higher-skilled immigrant with engineering, science or clear business skills on the one hand and lower-skilled jobs in vital areas such as home health care on the other. From any number of standpoints, it is a good idea that makes a lot of sense, although it is eliciting more controversy as the debate proceeds on how to fix a broken immigration system.

Critics of the current system, which gives highest preference to families, rightly argue that in most of the world immigration is based on needed skills. The United States has been out of step, to its competitive detriment, they charge. They further note that to satisfy those who expressed concern about the proposal, it would still maintain a priority for family members, just one lower than has been the case. On a 100-point plan, laborers in lower-income but high-demand jobs such as landscaping and custodial work would get 16 points while engineers and others in science would receive 20 points.

That the plan would draw opposition from immigrant groups is not surprising. The first priority of most of them is to bring in to the United States as many family members as possible. One Homeland Security official was quoted in the press recently as predicting that if each of the 12 million illegal aliens in the United States who are seeking permanent legal status were to bring in all their relatives, the prospective immigrants conservatively would total 30 million or more. That number should not shock anyone given the fact that we are where we are in immigration because one illegal alien quite often becomes a dozen when members of the extended family show up on the doorstep.

While it is true that America is a nation of immigrants and that those who have flocked here illegally mainly from the south have swelled our badly depleted common labor force, there ultimately has to be some stop to that flow. Continuing to accept the "huddled masses" without some method of sorting them based on the nation's needs is foolhardy and potentially disastrous to our economy. The strain on our systems, from schools to health care, by often desperately poor illegal immigrants already is approaching unmanageable levels in a number of areas.

Joel Kaplan, the White House deputy chief of staff and lead person on immigration, accurately portrayed the dilemma in a recent press account of the situation. He noted that the system was very heavily weighted on whether or not one has a family member in this country and has to be rebalanced if the nation really wants to have an immigration policy that is geared to making sure it is competitive in this century.

The country does really need diesel fitters -- not "dese'll fit 'ers." If that seems harsh, so does the alternative.


Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska