The idea of a merit-based immigration policy originated on the political left. It was first proposed by a blue ribbon panel, chaired by a civil rights movement icon, Barbara Jordan, in the 1990s. The commission’s recommendations for an immigration overhaul were immediately endorsed by President Bill Clinton and other leading Democrats and Republicans of the day and then, just as quickly, mothballed due to objections from ethnic interest advocacy groups and powerful cheap labor business interests.
Twenty-five years later, legislation aimed at implementing the recommendations of the Jordan Commission, most notably shifting to a legal immigration policy that selects newcomers based on an objective assessment of their education, job skills and likelihood of success in the United States, remains stalled in Congress. The Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), supported by President Trump, cannot even get a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
In 2020, the obstacles to enacting a merit-based immigration policy include a new impediment: Fierce opposition on the far left to the very concept of merit. In the name of achieving “equity” and “social justice” the far left now believes that it is failure that is deserving of reward. Today, we seem to have moved well beyond President Obama’s much derided 2012 “You didn’t build that” quip, minimizing the accomplishments of people who have created successful businesses. It is now leftist dogma that anybody who succeeds in America does so only because of some unfair advantage they have had over everyone else.
The left’s longstanding unwillingness to adopt merit as a basis of our immigration policies has morphed into a full-scale attack on merit in other areas of American life. For example, Virginia has recently followed New York City’s lead in attempting to do away with public high schools for high-achieving kids based on the assertion that academically advanced youngsters have not achieved that status based on innate ability and diligent study, but rather through a form of cheating.
Speaking in support of ending merit-based, colorblind admissions to Alexandria’s elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia’s Secretary of Education Atif Qarni compared students who benefit from tutoring that helps them excel academically to athletes who use “performance enhancement drugs.” Jefferson’s student body is 73 percent Asian – mostly immigrant or first generation Americans. New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, the Harvard of American public high schools, has an identical percentage of children of Asian immigrants. If these kids are the beneficiaries of outside tutoring it entails significant financial sacrifice on the part of families who have decided to invest in their children’s futures, and kids who put in the extra work. These are not the children of entitled elitists who bribed their way into elite schools.
As Asra Nomani and Max Eden observed in the City Journal, the objective of the race-obsessed left, is not to achieve equity by “just lifting the bottom up, but also tearing the top down.” When it comes to immigration policy they are spared the effort of tearing the top down – our current merit-blind family chain migration system has already taken care of that for them. What the left aims to ensure is that the only way that the bottom is lifted is through socialist wealth redistribution schemes – a prospect that would be greatly enhanced by an ever-growing poor and socially alienated immigrant population. And that means doing whatever it takes to prevent adoption of a merit-based immigration policy.
A merit-based immigration system that results in the admission of people who build things (yes, by taking full advantage of existing infrastructures and systems built by others) will not advance the goals of the radical left – the ideological tail that seems to be wagging the Democratic dog nowadays. Immigrants selected for their likelihood to succeed will likely succeed and help the rest of us succeed as well. They will also, very likely, reject the far left’s inclination to reward failure and penalize success.
The RAISE Act should have been brought to the floor by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a vote long ago, if only to force those on the other side of the aisle to defend an immigration policy that both promotes failure and exacerbates the very inequity that those on the far left pretend to abhor. He needs to act fast because there is no assurance that he will be in a position to do so come 2021.
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).