June 18, 2003
As an immigration attorney, for ten years I've watched uneducated and lawless immigrants receive free passes-amnesties, social welfare, pro bono lawyering - while the small number of truly qualified legal migrants must crawl through an almost impenetrable labyrinth laid down by the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security. For instance, it took some eight years for America to admit the Finnish genius who invented the Linux operating system. Meanwhile, an illegal immigrant who took part in the latest amnesty can gradually import his brothers, sisters, parents and in-laws - in the name of the actual principle driving U.S. policy: so-called "family reunification."
Providing immigration benefits to married brothers and sisters has stretched this principle to a ludicrous thinness. How can two separate families each with spouses and children be considered members of one family in need of reunification?
The single greatest task for immigration reformers is to waft away the clouds of sentiment that justify this unjust, irrational policy, and replace it with a program that fits our national interest and is easy to explain and defend.
I propose that we adopt the principle of reciprocity.
Reciprocity simply means that America might limit immigration from any other country to the numbers of American citizens (of any ethnicity) who actually take up residence in that country and become citizens. It might even include providing similar health benefits, similar land ownership rights, similar language rights, and similar social perquisites according to what that same country offers American emigrants. As Peter Brimelow documented in Alien Nation, applying this standard to countries such as Mexico—which are quite literally xenophobic—would revolutionize U.S. policies.
Up to now, the public discourse on immigration has been focused exclusively on American policies, and the limits they impose on the wishes of would-be immigrants. By calling for reciprocity between the U.S. and other countries, we shift the grounds of the debate. Suddenly, it's relevant to discuss Mexico's immigration policies, work permits, health benefits to visitors and illegal immigrants, free education to immigrants, and so on.
If applied consistently, this principle would stabilize populations of the world, instead of allowing crowded countries to dump their excess populations - still inspired by the divisive racist and nationalistic feelings that motivate their nations' policies - on an unwitting America. Reciprocity would not mean unlimited immigration - because immigration law already contains several caps on admissions. (We can argue about whether to shrink these numbers - later.) Reciprocity would simply add a new cap to per-country admissions - the exact number of American citizens who moved to that country legally the year before. These statistics are very easy to collect, and they could be published every January to guide America's visa-issuing agencies.
Reciprocity is simple, clear, and fair. It offers even the busiest congressman a way of talking about his position on immigration that cannot immediately be construed as mean-spirited and racist. In fact, he or she can call opponents mean-spirited and racist, for "implicitly endorsing" the exclusionist policies of other countries. What a change of pace. It would even allow them to engage in legislative efforts to "grade" other countries on their immigration policies, much as we now grade other countries on their civil rights, slave trafficking, and support for terrorism. Reciprocity allows immigration reformers to be seen as the advocates of human rights abroad, as well as law enforcement at home.
Wouldn't it be great to go on the offensive? To debate Mexico's receiving policy instead of America's?
Reciprocity may be an unknown soldier in the immigration battle. But it is the principle which dominates American policy in almost all other areas: taxation, water rights, social security, national defense, mutual security pacts, trade agreements, and so on. Sometimes it is trumped by considerations of war and peace, but it is a concept with which legislators and policy makers are eminently acquainted.
There's a certain West Coast politician who at least once a year beats his breast about America's old immigration policies toward Japan. He actually argues that these policies embittered the Japanese political class, and brought on the attack at Pearl Harbor.
The best way to answer this misguided line of argument is to invoke reciprocity - to point out that Japanese immigration policies were in 1930 (and still are now) so rigorous, xenophobic, and racist that only marriage to a Japanese citizen gains one the right to live in that country (not become a citizen), and that Koreans of even fourth generation residence in Japan are not viewed as citizens, only permanent residents.
What was that about bitterness again?
How could the Japanese political class hate America for imposing less stringent laws and vastly easier requirements than they favored for themselves?
Oh, it was all smoke and mirrors to begin with, you say? You'd be right.
Establishing the principle of immigration reciprocity would end these guilt games for good – and much else besides.
Publius [email him] is an immigration attorney