Immigration and Nepotism Revisited

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on November 16, 2009

You wouldn't know it from much of the news coverage, but the "comprehensive" immigration reforms favored by many immigration advocates would do far more than provide legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

Two other giant programs would offer a path to citizenship to many more newcomers who, like most of the illegal immigrant population, tend to be unskilled and poorly educated. This means that the demographic effect of "comprehensive" reforms would be an enormous increase in the population of the working poor.

One program, heavily promoted by Chamber of Commerce and such low-wage industries as landscaping, restaurants, and hotels, would provide employers with annual flows of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Another program, known as AgJobs, is geared specifically to the illegal immigrant farmworkers who, for example, make up a large majority of the workers in California's giant agriculture industry. Their ranks continue to grow, as the workers make it past the still-porous borders and reach fields owned by growers who are eager for their low-wage labor and indifferent to their illegal status.

In an appearance on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" on Saturday, the Brookings Institution's Ron Haskins pointed out a problem that arises from the immigration of the poorly educated who would make up the great majority of those who would be offered citizenship under the "comprehensive" formulas.

Haskins noted that the top priority of U.S. immigration law is to provide a path to citizenship to relatives of those who are already here as citizens or permanent residents. And because such newcomers tend to have educations similar to those of their sponsoring relatives, Haskins noted, the population of the unskilled continues to grow.

Haskins suggested that the system should be changed, perhaps with a point system like those used by other countries (notably Canada) to favor the well-educated and skilled who have the best chance to integrate themselves economically and culturally.

"I personally think we should do that, not completely, not radically, but gradually over a period of years admit fewer people who are poorly educated and more people who are well educated," he said.

The nepotism built into the current U.S. system is a result of changes adopted by Congress in landmark 1965 immigration law. Senate passage of that legislation was managed by Sen. Ted Kennedy, who sought to honor the pro-immigration legacy of his assassinated brother John. The message of the elder Kennedy's book -- A Nation of Immigrants -- was to abolish the decades-old "national origins" system that favored immigration from western and northern Europe.

Kennedy wrote: "Such a system is an anachronism, for it discriminates among applicants for admission in to the United States on the basis of birth."

In a passage anticipating the sort of changes now favored by Haskins and many others, Kennedy continued that immigration law "should be modified so that those with the greatest ability to add to the national welfare, no matter where they are from, are granted the highest priority." Family unification should be secondary to that goal, he said.