From the podium of the White House press room, senior adviser Stephen Miller stridently stood before America and the world this week and essentially declared that as far as Donald Trump is concerned, the American dream is over.
The idea that this nation is a refuge for those seeking freedom, that we are open and welcoming to those who hope to improve not just their own station in life but the station of their children, and their children’s children? That is simply not something that our president is interested.
Under Trump’s proposed stricter immigration rules requiring proficiency in English and “high skills,” Trump’s own grandfather Friedrich Trump, who immigrated at age 16 and originally worked as a barber (a trade he had apprenticed in because he was considered too sickly to join his brothers and sisters in the grape fields), would not have been allowed into America from his native Germany.
This argument between Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta is fairly jarring,
also illustrative of how deeply the people in this White House fail to understand exactly what America is—and, clearly, what it’s not.
“What you’re proposing here or what the president is proposing does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta pointed out. “The Statue of Liberty says ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.’ It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer. Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant if you are telling them they have to speak English. Can’t they learn to speak English when they get here?”
Miller took offense to Acosta’s mention of the Statue of Liberty.
“I don’t want to go off on a whole thing about history here,” Miller said. “The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of light in the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty light in the world. The poem you are referring to is not part of the original Statue of Liberty. It was added later.”
Entry into America is not and has never been a “prize” you get for eating all your Wheaties. Miller talks as if there isn’t already a program for highly-skilled workers to immigrate to America. In fact, those high-skilled worker visas have traditionally gone not to ones who benefit America, but instead the persons who would be better benefited by America.
These are the various categories through which people can currently acquire a Green Card.
- Green Card through Family
- Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen
- Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
- Green Card through Employment
- First preference immigrant workers:
- Have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or
- Are an outstanding professor or researcher, or
- Are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria
- Second preference immigrant workers:
- Are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, or
- Have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or
- Are seeking a national interest waiver
- Third preference immigrant workers:
- A skilled worker (meaning your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience), or
- A professional (meaning your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent and you are a member of the profession), or
- An unskilled worker (meaning you will perform unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or experience)
- Green Card as a Special Immigrant
- Religious Worker
- Abused Children
- Afghanistan Translator or other Employee of U.S. Armed Forces
- International Broadcaster or member of the Media
- Employee of an international organization or Family member of a NATO employee
- Green Card through Refugee or Asylee Status
- Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
- Green Card for Victims of Abuse
- The abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- The abused child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- The abused parent of a U.S. citizen
- Green Card through Other Categories
- Diversity Immigrant Program
- Cuban Adjustment Act
- Are a Cuban native or citizen, or
- Are the spouse or child of a Cuban native or citizen
- Dependent Status under HRIFA
- Are the spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident who received his or her Green Card based on the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)
- Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act
- Are a native or citizen of Vietnam, Kampuchea (Cambodia), or Laos who was paroled into the U.S. on or before Oct. 1, 1997 from Vietnam under the Orderly Departure Program, a refugee camp in East Asia, or a displaced person camp administered by UNHCR in Thailand.
- American Indian born in Canada.
- Have 50% or more of blood of the American Indian race and were born in Canada
- Persons born in the U.S. with Foreign Diplomat parents.
- Were born in the United States to a foreign diplomatic officer who was stationed in the U.S. when you were born.
- Green Card through Registry
- You may be eligible to register for a Green Card if you have resided continuously in the U.S. since before Jan. 1, 1972.
And just for the record, you don’t have to speak English to become a naturalized citizen.
As you can see, employability is already one of the factors involved in potentially obtaining a Green Card, but there are many other ways to do so through various methods and relationships. Miller’s proposal isn’t just changing our legal immigration system into something “merit”-based—it’s actually deleting and deprioritizing all of these other various avenues of access.
And then there’s this question: what exactly are they going to consider meritorious? Having a good education? Having a good, high-end skill? Having good “breeding?” And what is it with all this “assimilation” business?
In the above video Charles Blow attempts to get Jeffrey Lord to explain exactly what he means by requiring people to “assimilate” rather than—as Lord claims they do—”self-segregate.”
He seems ignorant (of course) to the reality that the Irish community was isolated in New York 150 years ago specifically because they were ostracized and shunned by others. He ignores that the Italian community was similarly shunned and reviled. That this “assimilation” he speaks of was simply their attempting, over the course of generations, to “fit in” and literally de-ethnicize themselves. To become not so Irish-like and not so Italian-like but Neeta’s, more generic and bland. Safe. Non-threatening.
So they Americanized their names and dropped the more obvious ethnic elements, their children grew up speaking English rather than the old language, and the kids naturally adopted more American cultural elements rather than the habits from the old country. This is the way the system has worked, but apparently Jeffrey Lord doesn’t understand the core point that Blow is alluding to, which is that some of us here in America aren’t immigrants.
Black people—and that term is used in this case to isolate persons whose ancestors go back to before 1808 when Congress was first allowed to end the importation of slaves, as opposed to voluntary African immigrants—didn’t come here by choice. They, like the Irish, Italians, and Jews, were not originally invited to openly integrate into the whole of America. They didn’t “self-segregate.” They were very deliberately forced to segregate for nearly two centuries, but simply changing their names wasn’t enough to make them “fit in” and slide under the radar to escape the social ostracization faced by other ethnic groups.
And it’s not like they remained culturally stagnant during that entire time. They developed their own but still American culture through the unique use of language, which is different from the mainstream “assimilated” uses of language. Through music, through food, through clothing, through dance and art, they built an Africanized but also very American culture of their own. They developed, by force of necessity, their own American perspective, which continues to revitalize and energize the larger American culture.
So when Blow asks Lord about “assimilation,” what he’s really questioning is de-culturalization.
And Lord’s argument boils down to: Don’t be so ethnic. Don’t be so different. Don’t be so unique. Or to put it another way: be. more. generic and white, like the rest of us have trained ourselves to be.
Take a step back and think about that from the perspective of our First Nations, our native Americans who were here long before the European migration of English, French, Dutch, and Spanish who eventually laid claim this these lands. Are they supposed to “assimilate” too? Into what? Into who? They should abandon their culture and heritage to be more appeasing and appealing to those who conquered and massacred their ancestors? Really, man?
Our Latino brothers and sisters in many cases aren’t really from “somewhere else,” either. Their history in the Western U.S. goes back 400 years to when the Spanish and Natives interacted, so they are of a hybrid heritage and culture, part native but also Spanish-speaking, and often Catholic.
If you are an immigrant from another part of the world, scraping off much of that old culture is not a threat to the continuance of that culture because it continues to exist somewhere else. But that’s not really the case for black Americans (as opposed to a more recent African immigrant), for Native Americans, and for many Latino Americans as well. If these people remove much of their own culture just to make others more “comfortable” (as many immigrants do when they assimilate), just where does that culture go?
Be that as it may, conservative commentator Anna Navarro gets right to the heart of this matter right here.
“This is yet one more wedge issue being fabricated by the Trump administration for the purpose of keeping his base happy,” Navarro told CNN host Anderson Cooper. “It is absolutely racist to award a point system.”
“I’d like to award points to people who don’t wedge and pit Americans against each other,” Navarro said.
“I live in a community which is full of people who came here without speaking English,” Navarro explained of her Miami neighbors. “Including myself, including Marco Rubio’s parents.”
“It’s absolutely racist and more than racist, it’s un-American,” Navarro charged.
Yeah, it absolutely is all that. It’s racist in the sense that it’s clearly giving priority to those who are already the most culturally like those in our business community. It’s certainly classist in that it favors those who have financial access to education and industry resources that can help them be high-skilled and high-value employees. And it’s also extremely, insultingly un-American.
It is completely blind and oblivious to people’s potential, and their ability to change and grow into something and someone far beyond who and what they may be right now. It ignores the fact that new and different perspectives can revitalize and re-energize us socially, culturally, and yes, also financially by presenting new ideas that can catch fire and spread, changing the nature and scope of who the rest of us are as nation.
If we had implemented this kind of policy 100 or more years ago, a 16-year-old Friedrich Trump wouldn’t have been allowed into the country, and his son wouldn’t have started a successful real estate empire in Queens, and his grandson wouldn’t have taken that business into Manhattan.
All of the millions upon millions of blue collar workers who immigrated in order to give their children the potential for a better, greater life—people like Friedrich—would see the gates of America sealed shut to them. They would be rejected. Branded insufficient. Failures.
And all that potential, would be lost, wasted. A future foreclosed.
This is literally the most heartless, selfish, myopic, anti-American proposal in at least a generation. It’s embarrassing and insulting. Let’s hope that Anna Navarro is correct, and that all the Americans in Congress who are the first- and second-generation sons and daughters of working-class immigrants—those who struggled and toiled in thankless, unglamorous jobs to give their children a greater future—will recognize this ridiculous proposal for what it is.
More evidence that this entire proposal is simply heartless xenophobia comes from Vox as they report that while Trump claims he wants fewer legal immigrants and for more of them to be “high skilled” his own Department of Homeland Security has increased the cap for H2B Visas per year from 66,000 to 81,000 and that his own companies in including Mar-A-Lago have submitted 76 more applications for low wage foreign workers.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security raised the cap on H-2B visas for foreign guest workers from 66,000 visas per year to 81,000.
On Thursday — just three days later — Trump’s properties told the Department of Labor that they wanted approval to hire 76 guest workers using those visas.
The policy change was surprising. Trump has criticized other guest-worker programs for supposedly taking away jobs from Americans. He has resisted calls from the tech industry to expand the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers. He hasn’t increased visas in the H-2A program for seasonal farmworkers, even though the agriculture industry has lobbied for it. He even delayed the launch of a startup visa program that Obama created to help foreign tech entrepreneurs start businesses in the United States.
This isn’t about helping American workers, this is about feeding hate and resentment.