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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Immigration, Nativists, and Primaries

Late one evening, while driving through west Texas en route from California to New Jersey, I listened to a caller on talk radio defending the American educational system. The caller asked, "What could be wrong with education in the country that developed the first atomic bomb and put the first man on the moon?" Neither the host nor subsequent callers informed this caller that those great engineering efforts were largely driven by scientists and engineers who had fled Europe before, during, and immediately after World War II. The U.S. is a wonderful country and has given birth to many first rate scientists and engineers, but we have been able to overcome our lousy pre-University educational system, in part, because we are a great destination for immigrants. I have had the good fortune to work with wonderful scientists who moved to the U.S. from around the world, especially from India and China. Immigrants have made many great contributions to the U.S.

The failed, nativist congressional candidate for my district vows to run again in 2012. His 2010 platform included such bizarre planks as a complete 2 year halt in the granting of H1b visas, which would devastate our local tech based economy. His campaign rhetoric attributed anti-American thoughts and intent to the entire Hispanic immigrant community, including legal immigrants. He never explained how he gained access to their unspoken thoughts. The final nail in the coffin of my possible support for Mr. Nativist came when we exchanged emails about his desire to `rebalance' the ethnic origin of immigrants. I am supportive of ideas to give visa priority to those who through their education or business skills are most likely to make strong contributions to our economy. Using ethnicity as a determining criterion is a position strongly associated with the old Democratic party auxillary, the KKK, not with the Republicans. I pointed out this KKK association to Mr. Nativist, hoping he simply had not understood the implications of his word choice. He responded with a weird rant against Chinese immigrants. In our community, the Chinese immigrant community is dominated by scientists and engineers. Why this fellow would target them is beyond my ken. It certainly made it impossible for me to support him and prompted me to consider an opposing run. In addition to being inherently repugnant, a racist candidate would severely damage recruitment of new Republican voters. The declaration of the candidacy of the libertarian Republican freed me from running.

Current U.S. immigration policy is severely flawed in many ways, which I do not need to detail here, but consequent hostility to legal immigrants is misplaced. Legal immigration, especially if immigration policy is modified to be more economically rational, has the potential to continue to make great contributions to our (educationally challenged) society. Perhaps some people are so upset by illegal immigration that legal immigrants are simply tarred by association. On the other hand, maybe this is a non-issue. In my congressional district (which does not face significant illegal immigration issues like those facing Arizona), Republican voters rejected the candidacy of the anti-immigrant candidate. I'll work to ensure they reject him again in 2012.

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