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April 05, 2006

The Best Perspective on Immigration I've Read

Fareed Zakaria had a column in the WAPO yesterday that says more about the immigration issue and how it defines us as Americans than anything else I've read.  Here is the opening paragraph of the WAPO piece:

Seven years ago, when I was visiting Germany, I met with an official who explained to me that the country had a foolproof solution to its economic woes. Watching the U.S. economy soar during the 1990s, the Germans had decided that they, too, needed to go the high-technology route. But how? In the late '90s, the answer seemed obvious: Indians. After all, Indian entrepreneurs accounted for one of every three Silicon Valley start-ups. So the German government decided that it would lure Indians to Germany just as America does: by offering green cards. Officials created something called the German Green Card and announced that they would issue 20,000 in the first year. Naturally, they expected that tens of thousands more Indians would soon be begging to come, and perhaps the quotas would have to be increased. But the program was a flop. A year later barely half of the 20,000 cards had been issued. After a few extensions, the program was abolished.

Zakaria goes on to puzzle about the lack of a follow-up to the 9/11 attacks and surmises that America's immigrant population is not very radicalized, unlike the populations in other nations.  He says, "Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?"

He then acknowledges that the U.S. certainly has a problem with the flow of illegal immigrants, particularly from Mexico and passes along a finding by Stanford historian David Kennedy. "The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world."  Zakaria contends that the huge disparity in income is at the bottom of the huge inflow of workers.  The basic law of supply and demand is too big for law enforcement to overcome. 

His conclusion:

Beyond the purely economic issue, however, there is the much deeper one that defines America -- to itself, to its immigrants and to the world. How do we want to treat those who are already in this country, working and living with us? How do we want to treat those who come in on visas or guest permits? These people must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 5, 2006 at 02:11 PM in National and International Politics | Permalink

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