Just because a policy invokes the word “merit” does not make it meritorious.
Donald Trump’s call Tuesday night for a “merit-based” immigration system is not new; indeed, it is already part of our immigration law. It’s been promoted for years by some Republicans, Democrats and, most notably, employers in Silicon Valley.
It is the type of thinking that seems, on the surface, to make good sense, but is, in fact, a bastardization of America’s core values.
“It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” Trump told Congress. Really? If so we should take a wrecking ball to the Statue of Liberty.
Wealth and education are no more a part of compassionate immigration policy than, say, religion - although Trump has proved fuzzy on that score as well. His various pronouncements about banning Muslims and giving preference to Christian refugees show how twisted he is on all matters relating to immigration.
The U.S. already gives preference to foreigners with college degrees and those planning to invest money in U.S. companies. They are among the pool of applicants, which includes highly skilled workers, seeking so-called H-1B visas.
Under current law, 85,000 H-1B visas are available each year, and they go quickly. Tech firms in California have insisted for some time that the number is too low.
When executives from Silicon Valley met with Trump in December they complained about the ceiling on H-1B visas, according to the tech news service Recode. Trump’s over-simplified response was said to be, “Let’s fix that.”
Trump has a history of responding favorably to those seated in front of him, so it’s too bad that none of the unskilled farmhands, kitchen workers and hotel employees on whom the economy depends have been invited to the Oval Office.
The president’s infatuation with “merit” appears to be a side-door method of limiting family-based immigration, which represents the largest category of people entering the country. Roughly 65 percent of legal immigration to the U.S. is based on sponsorship by family members.
Trump maintains that the current system is “straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon.” There is no evidence whatsoever that increasing merit-based immigration would change that.
Yes, a case can be made that the U.S. would benefit from a greater influx of skilled doctors, researchers and technological wizards. For that matter, why wouldn’t we want the best sushi chefs from Japan or the best baseball players from Cuba?
But even on that score, Trump conflates skill with wealth. He is fixated on welcoming those who can “support themselves.”
All foreigners, skilled or unskilled, rich or poor, should be treated equally. That is the only formula with merit.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. He can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com.