Let the im­mi­gra­tion snip­ing be­gin

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

What bet­ter way to usher in the hiss­ingly hot dog days of sum­mer, oth­er­wise known as August, than with a high-wire ver­bal duel be­tween CNN se­nior White House cor­re­spon­dent (and well-known cos­mopoli­tan) Jim Acosta and White House sniper (and se­nior ad­viser) Stephen Miller?

The snip­ing be­gan dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, the same day Pres­i­dent Trump en­dorsed Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ plan to re­form le­gal im­mi­gra­tion from fam­ily-based to skill-based stan­dards.

Re­ac­tions were swift, pre­dictable and hys­ter­i­cal:

Oh my god, who’s go­ing to harvest the crops? This is so un­Amer­i­can! Trump is a bigot! More or less. Acosta con­trib­uted to the lat­ter lament by cit­ing what he called Trump’s three is­sues: Mus­lims, Mex­i­cans and me­dia, all of which the pres­i­dent pre­sum­ably dis­likes — ex­cept when he’s in Saudi Ara­bia, in Mex­ico or ap­pear­ing on Fox “News.”

Pas­sions in­ten­si­fied when Acosta sug­gested at the news con­fer­ence that Trump only wants im­mi­grants from English-speak­ing re­gions, prompt­ing Miller to ac­cuse him of hav­ing a “cos­mopoli­tan bias,” which seems like some­thing one would like to have — or drink. Cos­mopoli­tan means worldly, af­ter all, and what’s wrong with that? Per­haps some in­ter­pret world­li­ness as glob­al­ist or elit­ist, but then Miller, a Duke Univer­sity grad­u­ate from Cal­i­for­nia, prob­a­bly isn’t carv­ing duck calls in his spare time.

As for Acosta, what could ex­plain his ap­par­ent ex­trap­o­la­tion that pri­or­i­tiz­ing English pro­fi­ciency is tan­ta­mount to re­strict­ing im­mi­gra­tion to cer­tain races or eth­nic­i­ties? Or that re­form­ing im­mi­gra­tion to em­pha­size skilled work­ers would ex­clude peo­ple from coun­tries where English is not the first lan­guage? One may in­fer that Trump is a bigot in cer­tain in­stances, but not nec­es­sar­ily in this one. Are there no other rea­sons be­sides big­otry to pre­fer skilled to un­skilled work­ers?

Acosta’s ac­cost­ing of Miller is why so many Amer­i­cans see the me­dia as bi­ased. Let’s be hon­est: If Trump dis­cov­ered a cure for nar­cis­sism, no one would ob­ject if he used it first on him­self, but most in the me­dia would in­sist that the cure was sim­ply fur­ther ev­i­dence that Trump is a nar­cis­sist.

To Acosta, the pres­i­dent’s bias in fa­vor of English-speak­ing peo­ple is ob­vi­ous and runs counter to the na­tion’s pur­pose as de­scribed in the poem on the Statue of Lib­erty wel­com­ing the world’s tired, poor and hud­dled masses. Acosta, his in­ner so­lil­o­quist lib­er­ated at last, en­gaged in a recita­tion, where­upon Miller glee­fully re­torted that said poem, writ­ten in 1883 by one Emma Lazarus, was tacked onto the statue years af­ter it was erected.

In 2017, we can’t wel­come skilled work­ers, too?

To­day’s wretched ex­cess, if you will, is the di­rect con­se­quence of the wellinten­tioned Im­mi­gra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act of 1965, which gave pref­er­ence to ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers of peo­ple al­ready here. Long lines en­sued and in­creased quo­tas fol­lowed, as did the flow of im­mi­grants too im­pa­tient for the le­gal process. Le­gal im­mi­gra­tion has in­creased from 296,697 in 1965 to more than 1 mil­lion to­day. Of those, 39 per­cent are from Asia. About one-third em­i­grate from Mex­ico, the Caribbean and Cen­tral Amer­ica. Be­fore the law, nearly 70 per­cent of le­gal im­mi­grants were from Europe and Canada, com­pared with just 10 per­cent to­day.

Per­haps these sta­tis­tics ac­count for Acosta’s sense that Repub­li­cans want to keep Amer­i­cans “hablando in­glés.” But might there also be other rea­sons to pre­fer skilled work­ers, who would find jobs wait­ing to be filled, pay taxes and con­trib­ute to the ris­ing tide that lifts all boats?

If such pref­er­ences are tan­ta­mount to big­otry, then oth­ers have been equally guilty, in­clud­ing Demo­cratic Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy (Mass.), as well as civil rights leader Barbara Jor­dan, who in 1972 be­came the first African Amer­i­can woman from the South to be elected to the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. As head of an im­mi­gra­tion spe­cial task force, Jor­dan (Tex.) wor­ried that open­ing the flood­gates to un­skilled work­ers would rob Amer­i­can cit­i­zens of jobs and strain so­cial ser­vices. She, too, sug­gested fo­cus­ing more on skilled im­mi­grants.

Kennedy, who in 1965 played down such con­cerns and sup­ported the im­mi­gra­tion bill, later changed his mind and in 2007 joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a push for skills-based re­forms. But then-Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton (D-N.Y.) op­posed the idea be­cause, hold your air horns, they couldn’t bear the thought that fam­i­lies (a.k.a. fu­ture Demo­cratic vot­ers) might be torn asun­der.

Oh, the ironies. The GOP has fi­nally de­fined ex­actly which fam­i­lies they value, while Democrats have clar­i­fied their need for the needy. It would seem we have a draw. Yet some­where in all the squab­bling is space for the “brain power” Jor­dan urged Amer­i­cans to call upon for a ra­tio­nal con­ver­sa­tion about im­mi­gra­tion re­form that best serves the national in­ter­est.

Mean­while, thanks for the show, and en­joy ye dog days while ye may.

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