Skilled la­bor should be at front of im­mi­gra­tion line

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - RALPH HALLOW Ralph Z. Hallow, the chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent of com­men­tary, served on the Chicago Tri­bune, Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette and Wash­ing­ton Times edi­to­rial boards, was Ford Foun­da­tion Fel­low in Ur­ban Jour­nal­ism at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity and res

The lit­tle kid and his dad strug­gled to make heads or tails of what the El­lis Is­land cus­toms agents were say­ing. Those agents strug­gled just as hard, fi­nally mak­ing “Hallow” out of “el-Hilou” — the fam­ily name the kid and his fa­ther were try­ing to con­vey. The kid would, much later, be my dad.

The 19th cen­tury had just turned into the 20th. My dad was 8 years old and had blessed him­self, with thumb and two fin­gers to­gether in the Syr­ian Ortho­dox man­ner, as the Statue of Lib­erty passed astern of the last of sev­eral ves­sels that had borne the two Hilous from Syria across the length of the Mediter­ranean Sea and the breadth of the At­lantic Ocean. Dad came fully equipped with a third-grade ed­u­ca­tion — in Ara­bic. English was Greek to him.

My mother had a sim­i­lar El­lis Is­land ar­rival from Syria with her par­ents when she was 3 years old.

Even­tu­ally Dad and Mom met, mar­ried and had me. That made me a na­tive-born Amer­i­can with a priv­i­leged cit­i­zen­ship I cher­ish all the more for know­ing that tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. A few years after my par­ents’ ar­rival, im­mi­gra­tion law tight­ened enough to keep out the likes of my par­ents. Time passed and the laws opened up again.

Soon you may hear the grind­ing of our im­mi­gra­tion doors as they nar­row the open­ing for new­com­ers. Two Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have in­tro­duced a bill to move to the front of the line those for­eign­ers with qual­i­fi­ca­tions not pos­sessed by my mom and dad or by their par­ents.

If you can flash a college diploma, boast a skill that pro­motes our na­tional in­ter­ests, mouth English with cred­i­ble clar­ity and have a job await­ing you in, say, Cleve­land, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials will greet you with thumbs up and a smile. Ge­orge W. Bush tried to add merit as an im­mi­gra­tion cri­te­rion in 2007.

Pres­i­dent Trump likes the cur­rent ef­fort bill. I should hate it. I don’t.

My fa­ther and mother loved America be­cause, in their minds, it pro­vided the great­est opportunity on earth. They loved that America as­pired to be­lieve in the ul­ti­mate worth of the in­di­vid­ual. That is huge in the his­tory of ideas. Each and ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is worth more than the so­ci­ety as a whole. This was, and is, a cru­cial dis­tinc­tion from other cul­tures and ex­plains Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism.

You could ar­gue — I will, if you won’t — that “rugged in­di­vid­u­al­ism” is the ul­ti­mate an­ti­dote to the to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism that pro­fes­sional race-baiters and white-priv­i­lege hys­ter­ics claim to see be­hind ev­ery Bush and Trump tee.

Call it “com­mu­nism,” “fas­cism,” “statism” — to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism is the prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of the no­tion that a gov­ern­ment may gov­ern with­out the con­sent of the gov­erned.

The “ul­ti­mate worth of the in­di­vid­ual” an­ti­dote is in America’s blood be­cause the peo­ple who set­tled the colonies came from that hand­ful of so­ci­eties on the planet — Bri­tain fore­most among them — that had de­vel­oped but not fully im­ple­mented such views. That’s not na­tivism or eth­no­cen­trism but a sim­ple fact of his­tory.

John Adams, Ben­jamin Franklin Thomas Jef­fer­son, Alexan­der Hamil­ton (born on one of Bri­tain’s Caribbean is­land-colonies), James Madi­son, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and their crew were uniquely equipped to hold and in­sti­tu­tion­al­ize ul­ti­mate worth, along with free­dom of speech, as­so­ci­a­tion, re­li­gion and the rest. And they were able to start fresh, their new na­tion un­en­cum­bered by a his­tory of di­vine monar­chy.

After the colonies united, they ex­pe­ri­enced the ar­rivals, in bursts and trick­les, of new peo­ple, some of whom came from so­ci­eties un­ac­quainted with the ul­ti­mate worth of the in­di­vid­ual, gov­er­nance by con­sent of the gov­erned and the free­doms enu­mer­ated in our Con­sti­tu­tion.

They came seek­ing eco­nomic opportunity and free­dom, re­li­gious and oth­er­wise — a con­cept lit­tle known out­side of West­ern Europe in America’s early days. New­com­ers from coun­tries hos­tile to, or ig­no­rant of, these free­doms learned them through as­sim­i­la­tion — that cer­tain some­thing that grad­u­ally turns you from be­ing Syr­ian, Ser­bian, Ja­panese, Chi­nese, Nige­rian or what­ever into think­ing of your­self as Amer­i­can and there­fore of ul­ti­mate worth as an in­di­vid­ual and will­ing and ea­ger to de­fend the right of your neigh­bor to dis­agree with you and your re­li­gion.

Im­mi­grants un­schooled in per­sonal free­dom, tol­er­ance, the rule of law and English (a sin­gle lan­guage be­ing any na­tion’s cru­cial bind­ing agent) were too few in num­bers to avoid at least some in­ter­ac­tion with, and in­flu­ence from, the broader so­ci­ety.

Be­sides, Pil­grim, if you didn’t learn English, you’d have a harder time earn­ing money to put food on the ta­ble and a roof over your head.

But some­thing’s giv­ing the wil­lies to many de­scen­dants of for­eign-born par­ents here. There’s this creep­ing con­cern, like a tooth just be­gin­ning to loosen, that too many new­com­ers from cul­tures hos­tile to the ideas of Adam Smith and John Locke may be im­ped­ing or crip­pling as­sim­i­la­tion. Same for the feared (though un­proven) ef­fect of au­to­mated tele­phone greet­ings and an­swer­ing mes­sages in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, TV chan­nels in mul­ti­ple lan­guages, pub­lic school classes in mul­ti­ple lan­guages.

When you throw down the wel­come mat for more un­skilled or un­der­skilled new­com­ers to an Amer­i­can econ­omy in­sa­tiably hun­gry for the most highly skilled work­ers, you may im­pede im­prove­ment in liv­ing stan­dards for all but the fab­u­lously rich. No, that’s not a sci­en­tific fact, but it is a le­git­i­mate con­cern.

I want what is likely to best pre­serve Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism in ev­ery one of its as­pects. I think that means for now a shift in im­mi­gra­tion pri­or­i­ties and cut­ting in half the to­tal le­gal im­mi­gra­tion al­lowed.

The pri­or­i­ties now fa­vor rel­a­tives — re­gard­less of skill, ed­u­ca­tion and lan­guage — of peo­ple who are al­ready here and who may or may not be as­sim­i­lated. The new pri­or­i­ties should smile for now on hot­shot physi­cists and com­puter su­pertechies with an audi­ble grasp of English.

Yes, this shift would have kept my par­ents in Syria, where they did not have a God-given right to em­i­grate to the U.S. No for­eigner any­where does. Rather, the peo­ple of the United States, through their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives, have a God-given right to de­ter­mine who gets to come across our bor­ders and what we want them to con­trib­ute.

You get a shot at re­main­ing in the shin­ing city on the hill by keep­ing the lights burn­ing.


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