Immigration policy is like dating policy: It sets boundaries for how one expects to be treated. Western countries have been in an unspoken competition to come across as the least uptight about immigration. Meanwhile, countries that take a hard-line approach to immigration are viewed like a controlling boyfriend rather than someone who simply refuses to buy into the idea of an open relationship with the rest of the world.
Maybe it was inevitable that someone who's immune to peer pressure would decide to put his foot down on the subject. That person is U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration announced planned immigration reforms last week that have already prompted whining.
Much of the outrage has been directed toward Trump's support of a bill to implement a meritocratic, points-based immigration system that favors professional skills rather than family relations. (Canada and Australia already have such systems, but they're seemingly immune to criticism simply because those nations seem pretty chill.) Some of the points awarded in the new system would be based on salary level, rewarding foreign nationals who have been offered high-paying jobs in the United States -- an attempt to reverse the cheap imported labor trend that has done so much harm to the U.S. economy.
Essentially, former Miss Universe pageant owner Trump wants to favor perfect 10s with his immigration reforms. This was destined to get some folks riled up, particularly in an era when rewarding the pursuit of excellence is considered anti-democratic at best and bigoted at worst.
At a press conference to announce the reforms, CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta recited part of the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
"It doesn't say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer," Acosta said.
Acosta has confused sensible immigration policy with a barfly's late-night dating strategy. While in politically correct company, most people will talk about how everyone is equal and beautiful, and blah, blah, blah, but let's face it: Most people don't just take anyone home. Neither should America.
At least Trump's "perfect 10" immigrant-recruitment strategy favors talent over evening wear. Trump wants to eliminate the shallow, skin-deep Diversity Visa lottery program and supports a Senate bill seeking to do just that. A strictly talent- and merit-based system means applicants with desire, dedication and determination, as proven by their effort to meet the high standards required for immigration, will be rewarded. "Potential" doesn't count, nor should it. Just consider all the guys you knew in high school who boasted of their "potential" to play pro football to understand why.
I'm a "chronic immigrant" myself (to both the U.S. and Europe), and I've always immigrated in professional categories that require mountains of paperwork to justify one's skills, abilities and revenues. When you have to jump through so many hoops, it can be frustrating to encounter people in your adopted country who did nothing more than marry a native citizen (or who had the good fortune to come from a country with a high immigration quota) to gain their visa or residency status.
The version of immigration that Acosta gleaned from the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, while poetic, doesn't reflect reality. Worldwide immigration isn't always blind and has long been discriminatory, favoring certain groups over others. A points-based meritocracy puts more power into the hands of the individual applicant, regardless of race or origin.
Taken a step further, meritocratic immigration allows people to play the globalization game to their own benefit, providing freedom to the individual. When countries drop their immigration barriers in order to compete with one another for foreign talent, immigrants can move around as they please, choosing the countries that deliver the greatest personal benefit. The ideal outcome would be for a large group of such individuals to become powerful enough to influence policy decisions that favor individual freedoms over the whims of special interest groups.
What are the odds that powerful lobbying groups will condone government policies that empower the individual to opt out of the traditional rat race, control their own destiny, and live and work on their own terms anywhere in the world that they choose?
If a U.S. president takes steps to empower immigrants to support themselves independently, it's inevitable that there will be pushback from those who thrive on the dependency of immigrants. That's exactly what we're witnessing right now.