The Case for "Unskilled" Immigration

Here's one thing Democrats and Republicans should agree on.

Republicans and Democrats in Washington don’t agree on much, but they do seem to agree on this: America’s immigration policy should prioritize the admission of “skilled” immigrants.

This column is about why they are wrong.

But first, a bit on the consensus. President Obama embraced it over the weekend in his weekly address. “Immigration reform would make it easier for highly-skilled immigrants and those who study at our colleges and universities to start businesses and create jobs right here in America,” the president said. He warned that if Congress does not act, “We won’t benefit from highly-skilled immigrants starting businesses and creating jobs here.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate embraced this theory in its immigration bill, which set up a system of what the legislation calls “merit-based points,” under which a doctoral degree is worth 15 points, a master’s degree ten points, and a bachelor’s degree is worth five points. And the Republican-controlled House of Representatives earlier this month moved through the Judiciary Committee something called the SKILLS Visa Act, which describes itself as a bill “to enhance American competitiveness through the encouragement of high-skilled immigration.”

The editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol, and the editor of National Review, Rich Lowry, summed it up the other day when they wrote, “Everyone professes to agree that our system should be tilted toward high-skilled immigration.” Even lobbyists for special interests have seized on the theme: one news article quoted an official of the National Ski Areas Association arguing that bilingual and multilingual ski instructors deserve preferred immigration treatment because they are “skilled and certified,” unlike, say, “strawberry pickers.”

This dichotomy between highly skilled and unskilled immigrants, however, is a false one.

For one thing, the children of “unskilled” immigrants often turn out to develop some formidable skills themselves. Mario Rubio came to America at age 6 as an immigrant from Cuba. Like most six year olds, he didn’t have a Ph.D. He eventually worked a hotel bartender and school crossing guard, and he married another Cuban immigrant who was a hotel housekeeper and Kmart stock clerk.  Their American-born son Marco became a lawyer, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senator from Florida.

What’s more, some politician’s definition of “highly skilled” may not match an employer’s definition. It’s possible that someone with a Ph.D. for research in some obscure field may end up creating less value over time than someone who gets on-the-job training in bartending or housekeeping. Plenty of Americans, after all, who would rather have the services of a star bartender or housekeeper than sit in a class taught by a mediocre sociology Ph.D.

Finally, for some immigrants, the journey from low-skill to high-skill happens within one lifetime. The immigrants in these cases often arrive too young for their skills, or their potential skills, to be evident.

There was Sergei Brin, who arrived in America at age six as a refugee from the Soviet Union. He went on to co-found Google. Abraham Rosenthal came to America from Canada as a boy and became the editor of the New York Times. Max Frankel came to America from Germany at age 10; he, too became the editor of The New York Times. Andras Istvan Grof came to America from Hungary at age 20 and supported himself through City College in New York in part by working as a summer bus-boy at a New Hampshire resort hotel; he went on, as Andrew Grove, to co-found and lead the microchip-maker Intel.

My favorite low-skill immigrant story, however — at least my favorite one that does not involve my own great-grandparents or grandparents — is the case of one Israel Isidore Beilin. He was born in what is now Belarus and arrived in America when he was about five years old. No Ph.D., no master’s degree, no bachelor’s degree. Under the proposed “merit-based points” system for education, he would have been a zero. But with just about nothing by way of formal education, Irving Berlin wrote a series of canonical American songs, including “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Blue Skies,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “White Christmas,” and “God Bless America.”

Got that? If the “highly skilled” immigration rules, taken to their logical extension, had been in place, the song wouldn’t have been “God Bless America,” but “God Bless Belarus.” Or, given that there wasn’t much to praise about Belarus if one was a poor young Jew, as Beilin/Berlin was, the song probably would never have been written at all, and Beilin/Berlin would have died in a pogrom, the Holocaust, or some Stalin-imposed starvation.

The next time some well-intentioned politician from either party starts palavering about high-skilled immigration, you might ask what plan they have for people who want to come here but who appear to not have many skills. If the politician doesn’t appear to understand, you could break into a rendition of “God Bless America.”

It ends, “God bless America, My home sweet home.”

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  • Calidissident||

    Next up, an abortion thread, right? And then one on whether or not Deep Dish is pizza or not

  • CE||

    Followed by a polite discussion on Lincoln and the Civil War.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    If Captain Kirk was a circumcised Confederate and ate a deep dish pizza, would the number of comments break 999?

  • Calidissident||

    Only if one of his lovers got an abortion, and he later got gay married

  • ||

    No it would have to be the fetus that gets gay married to a dog.

  • OldMexican||

    Only if it was Kirk who traveled back in time to shoot Lincoln and frame John Wilkes Booth for the crime.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Canonically, Kirk was a great admirer of Lincoln, see "The Savage Curtain".

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Not unless Khan was an anarcho-capitalist interested in debating alternatives to courts and the military in protecting fetal rights in a world without government.

    Also, they are joined by Santorum and debate race and anarcho-primitivism.

    There.

  • ||

    He offered the world GAMBOLING!!!

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Kirk: Gamboling across the cosmos is a game for the you, Doctor.

    Uhura; HR commentariat: Now what is that supposed to mean?

  • ||

    TIT, TIT, TIT... save your strength. These commenters have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born. Do you mean FoE never told you the tale?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    He is intelligent, but not experienced. His pattern indicates two-partisan thinking.

  • Hyperion||

    There's a new Zimmerman thread up at HuffPo, titled something like 'George gets his gun back'.

    11k comments already, and teh stoopid, it burns!

  • OldMexican||

    Your valiant efforts shall be rewarded in the after life with a prize even better than 72 virgins; you'll have 72 very experienced and slutty college girls that give great head.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Here's an adult speaking for a break from the progtards.

    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-J.....n-Sharpton

  • ||

    I appeared to have missed quite a few abortion threads while on vacation. Looks like I picked a good time.

  • Warrren||

    How about a cop on cop fight from China!

    http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b2d_1373855250

  • Warrren||

    Did I mention they're chicks?

  • CE||

    Obviously any time you put an artificial barrier on the free flow of labor, enforced by guns and backed by an immoral organization, the overall economy and human flourishing suffer. Duh.

  • CE||

    He eventually worked a hotel bartender and school crossing guard, and he married another Cuban immigrant who was a hotel housekeeper and Kmart stock clerk. Their American-born son Marco became a lawyer, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senator from Florida.

    Not sure what the point of this example is. Bartenders and housekeepers are more valuable than US Senators. Sounds like the Rubio family went backwards.

  • R C Dean||

    "After establishing themselves as productive members of society, unfortunately their son became a burden on society. Nonetheless, we can't really close the borders just because an immigrant's child may become a politician."

  • Pro Libertate||

    We should require any potential politicians to go to Ethics Bootcamp. Much like Shaolin training, but with much more negative reinforcement.

  • tarran||

    And we could film it and post the videos on a subscription fetish site. It could fund itself!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Oh, yeah, reality TV, YouTube, the whole works.

  • Calidissident||

    Should it take place on trains?

  • tarran||

    Amongst other places, yes.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Is prostitution considered skilled or unskilled labor, in DOL terms?

  • SugarFree||

    Depends on the prostitute. If they are just going to lay there and cry, I'm not going to call that very professional.

  • ||

  • tarran||

    Hey man, when you specify that you want them crying when you call up their pimp to place your order, you can't accuse them of unprofessionalism for feeding your fantasy.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Usually, though, don't professions get lumped into one category or the other? Maybe the distinction is between salaried prostitutes and those paid on an hourly basis?

    Where's Episiarch? He knows a lot more about this than I do. His PhD thesis was entitled, "The Ontology of Acquiring a Piece of Ass in the Asakusa District," I believe.

  • SugarFree||

    Professionals, paraprofessionals and amateurs.

    The amateurs have to be careful to maintain their eligibility to go to the Holympics.

  • ||

    (sneer)

    It was "The Ontology of Snorting Cocaine off a Hooker's Ass in the Asakusa District", you moron. Why do I even bother?

  • SugarFree||

    He probably only read the abstract. [sneer]

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look, I'm a busy man.

  • ||

    That's ProL for you: a mile wide and an inch deep. I bet he didn't even read the abstract, just the title. In fact, I have to wonder whether he can even read. He ProL, what does this say?

    (sneer)

  • Pro Libertate||

    Of course, you haven't forgotten that I was an examiner during your thesis defense. Yes, I almost had you tossed out for blurring the distinction between solicitation and rape, but you need to get over that.

  • ||

    ProL, I had already bribed the rest of the committee. There was no way I wasn't getting that PhD...in Dicknology. So you might want to reassess how...important...you were in that case.

    Mr Wong Burger: What're you doing touching my dicks?

    Frylock: You can't just run around ripping off people's dicks, to make a giant dickship.

    Mr Wong Burger: I have an advanced degree in Dicknology!

    Frylock: You're a madman, Wong Burger! This ship will never fly!

  • Pro Libertate||

    What, you thought ten years was the normal period to get a PhD? You sad, easily manipulated fool.

    To be sure, I didn't do it out of animus. I did it because of the free bourbon some archivist gave me.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I thought that was your master's thesis? Only wasn't it "The Hermeneutics of Asakusa District Inflatable Simulacra?" I do concede that you are considered to be the expert on the sex industry in the Asakusa District.

  • Lord Humungus||

    depends on the prostitute and the experience of the client.

  • OldMexican||

    President Obama embraced it over the weekend in his weekly address. "Immigration reform would make it easier for highly-skilled immigrants and those who study at our colleges and universities to start businesses and create jobs right here in America," the president said.


    Which is another way the president showcases his woeful ignorance of even the most basic concepts of economics. Who said that immigration should be about allowing only "highly-skilled" people to move to the U.S.?

    This dichotomy between highly skilled and unskilled immigrants, however, is a false one.


    Especially since the terms "highly-skilled" and "low-skilled" are completely subjective and meaningless when it comes to the demand for labor. What I would look for is for someone who will be more productive in a specific job than other people, so if I'm an owner of a restaurant looking for a dishwasher and a candidate is a great dishwasher who very seldomly breaks a glass or plate, that person will be highly-skilled my eyes, whereas a recent graduate of an Ivy League university who nevertheless suffers from having butterfingers will NOT be as well-regarded.

  • R C Dean||

    Especially since the terms "highly-skilled" and "low-skilled" are completely subjective and meaningless when it comes to the demand for labor.

    No kidding. Its completely context-dependent. Your "highly-skilled" software engineer is completely unskilled when it comes to building that new adobe fence around my yard.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Adobe makes fences now?

  • Steve G||

  • OldMexican||

    Plenty of Americans, after all, who would rather have the services of a star bartender or housekeeper than sit in a class taught by a mediocre sociology Ph.D.


    But plenty of Americans will be willing to sit in a class taught by a mediocre sociology Ph.D. if it means Keg Chuggin' Night at the local fraternity afterwards. On YOUR dime.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Why are all of his examples children? Do we still let children immigrate sans parents? Wouldn't they be judged on their parents' arbitrary and capricious score?

  • Tak Kak||

    I thought one of the main issues was whether they actually would support themselves though, the incentive structure seems to lean towards "optional" more so today.

    And further, it's certainly possible that some individuals have made a fortune as a criminal and then used that money/power to fund or produce genuinely helpful things, does that constitute the "Case for Criminals"?

    Well, yeah, I guess it does. That doesn't mean it's a particularly good case though.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Your analogy neatly elides only what is important for a libertarian: how the immigrant and the criminal make their fortune.

  • sarcasmic||

    Whenever I see the word 'only' I can be confident that a straw man is about to appear. Yep. There it is.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I'm curious, where is the straw man?

    You like to throw logical fallacies around but you don't seem to know much about them.

  • sarcasmic||

    There's no business like troll business like no business Bo knows!

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    It's perfectly OK if you don't know, they get used a lot by people who've never really looked at what they are.

  • Tak Kak||

    Sure, but why should we limit ourselves to libertarians, particularly with a problem that revolves around their enemy?

    To help you though,

    Criminal: Theft.
    Immigrant: State-sponsored Welfare

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I don't think many immigrants are going to make their fortunes from State sponsored welfare.

    Your analogy tries to defeat the point that "immigrants can help us by coming here and building fortunes" by using an analogy: well, criminals can build fortunes too.

    But to a libertarian what matters is: how was the fortune built? Through theft and fraud or voluntary exchanges? The problem we would have with the criminal is he goes the first route. I don't think we can assume that about immigrants.

  • sarcasmic||

    You make very effective rebuttals to arguments that no one is making.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Physician heal thyself comes to mind.

  • Tak Kak||

    You seem to miss the point my friend.

    How you or I feel about immigrants, or how they'll behave is irrelevant. The "Case for 'Unskilled' Immigration" is utilitarian, not rights based.

    So, as you even point out - for the libertarian - it's a bad argument.

    Again I'll ask though why we should focus on the libertarian when this dilemma revolves around their very enemy?

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    In answer to Mr. Stoll's pointing out immigrants who did well here and likely contributed to the economy you introduced an analogy about criminals going well and doing the same. Would that be an argument for criminals you ask?

    But of course not since you've read into the analogy the main thing a libertarian would object to: how the fortune was amassed.

    Also, not every libertarian argues from a rights based approach. Many argue from a utilitarian approach (and even rights based ones often do if they want to convince non-libertarian who are moved by utilitarian arguments).

  • Tak Kak||

    Exactly, it would be, IF you took utilitarian arguments seriously.

    The *main* thing a libertarian would object to isn't the point *I* raised, so you're constant reminder of it seems like a non-sequitur.

    Again, this falls on you first. As the Consequentialist libertarian wouldn't object to *how* the fortune was amassed either but rather the *consequences* (duh)

  • Tak Kak||

    But if one tool the utilitarian calculus seriously, I doubt a handful of immigrants rising to greatness really changes the final tally very much.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tak Kak,

    And further, it's certainly possible that some individuals have made a fortune as a criminal and then used that money/power to fund or produce genuinely helpful things, does that constitute the "Case for Criminals"?


    No, it does not, as the criminal activity from whence the fortune was made - if you're talking about stealing still violates the Non-Aggression Principle and still represents, economically-speaking, destruction of capital.

    Notwithstanding the above, you're conflating two totally different and UNRELATED acts. The first represents taking, the other is making, and making will NEVER be the same as taking.

    The other problem with your question is that it begs the question: assuming that entering a country is the same as criminal activity that is tantamount to stealing (as you're insinuating) is really nothing more than arguing that both actions are equal because they're against the law. There are MANY things that are prohibited by law but that does not mean in itself that those things are wrong or bad. For instance, bootlegging was (and is) illegal in many states, yet the action itself does not violate anybody's rights nor does it represent the taking of capital; the fact that the activity was (or is) illegal can only mean a disconnect between the law and economic reality, which is exactly the same when it comes to immigreation laws and immigration.

  • Tak Kak||

    So you agree, such an argument is poor, it's not the consequences of the act, it's the act.

    And try to think a bit more, use something a right-oriented libertarian would object to, like theft or contract-killing, it'll save both of out time at the very least.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tak kak,

    And try to think a bit more, use something a right-oriented libertarian would object to, like theft or contract-killing


    Who said I didn't? Maybe you have trouble reading sentences. Let us see:

    "No, it does not, as the criminal activity from whence the fortune was made - if you're talking about stealing, still violates the Non-Aggression Principle."

    Or contract-killing, for instance. Any act that violates the Non-Aggression Principle is inherently evil and thereby destructive.

    And theft = stealing, as far as all modern dictionaries are concerned. So I don't get the point in your retort.

  • Steve G||

    'The world (and 'murica) needs ditch diggers too...'

  • John||

    Perhaps I was smart not to gloat about my prediction of there being no riots after the Zimmerman verdict. Drudge is alight with reports of protests. Most of that is Drudge being his usual lovable muck racking self. But, if the police don't do anything, these things can get bigger very quickly. There is a cause. If a hundred people show up in Oakland Monday and nothing happens to them, two hundred show up the next night and more the next night after that. Going to the protest/riot quickly becomes a social scene in itself and gets very big very quickly.

    There is an old military maxim that says "the enemy has problems the existence of which you can never know". And I am starting to wonder if this doesn't apply to Obama. A long hot summer of race riots would be leave Obama's second term and the Democratic Party in general in tatters. You guys always say "but they will just blame the Republicans". Ah no. You have to understand how riots work in revolutionary politics. You have riots to blame the guy in charge and put him in an unwinnable dilemma. Either he cracks down, in which case you call him a tyrant and undercut his moral authority to rule or he doesn't do anything in which case you use the resulting chaos as a way to paint him as ineffective and a reason why the public needs to support your side to restore order. I am starting to think the village idiot missed the memo that he is in charge.

  • John||

    Even more bizarre is that the other point of mob violence and riots is to intimidate and terrorize your political enemies. But race riots in the big blue cities of this country will effect very few of Obama's political enemies. They will instead terrorize Hispanics, Asians and urban whites, in other words the rest of Obama's coalition. It is nothing short of insane to incite riots that will terrorize your own base.

    What I am beginning to think is that the Obama administration has no plan or any idea what to do. They are inciting riots because that is what they do. They only know how to incite and divide and they will keep doing so out of reflex even if it means their own doom. And that is a pretty scary thought.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    If a hundred people show up in Oakland Monday and nothing happens to them, two hundred show up the next night and more the next night after that.

    Oh my god. 200 people all exercising their right to free speech at once? I'm not sure we as a society are prepared for that much freedom.

    So tell me, any time more 100 tea party people show up some place, should the police start smacking them around too to discourage more from showing up tomorrow?

  • John||

    Are you retarded Stormy? If the 100 Tea Partiers started burning shit and breaking windows, sure. And maybe you missed it, but there have been any number of people threatening violence and mass riots over this. So, yeah, when the Tea Party starts saying it plans violence and a hundred people show up one night and start burning shit, that will be a problem, especially if another three hundred show up the next night.,

    I know you are stupid. But I didn't think you were so dumb you don't understand that yes, riots can occur and do often start out as "protests" of something or another. Either you need to try a bit harder or I need to learn to give you less credit.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I realize you think minorities run on this borg-like collective mind that allows them all to be held collective responsible for the actions of any particular individual, but just because a few people are causing property damage doesn't justify cracking down one an entire group.

    And maybe you missed it, but there have been any number of people threatening violence and mass riots over this

    So if I find one guy mouthing off on twitter about violence, that justifies the police cracking down on anyone in the entire country that agrees with them on some politic issue?

  • John||

    So you think there is no chance of any riots anywhere? I don't think there are going to be riots either. I predicted as much. But I wouldn't say that is impossible. And that was the point of the post. It was that the administration is creating a political cause that could very well result in riots. And that is insane. It wasn't, there will be riots.

    But don't worry about the content of the post. Just troll it by yelling BORG and Tea Party, because that is what you do.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Cracking down non-violent protest because there might be a riot at sometime in the future is like cracking on law abiding gun owners because their might be a school shooting sometime in the future.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    When did John recommend cracking down?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    But, if the police don't do anything, these things can get bigger very quickly. There is a cause. If a hundred people show up in Oakland Monday and nothing happens to them, two hundred show up the next night and more the next night after that.

    What exactly is the anything he expects the police to do that is apparently going to terrify the citizens enough to keep them from daring to show up tomorrow night that doesn't qualify as "cracking down"?

  • John||

    Which part of "can" doesn't mean "should" do you not understand? I never said they would. I just said they could.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Amusingly, every example Stoll gave of uneducated immigrants making good, with the exception of Rubio, appears to be Jewish.

    Ok then, we have an argument for letting in uneducated Jews. Unfortunately, our immigration problems have nothing to do with being overwhelmed by Jews crashing our borders.

    Next!

  • John||

    That is amusing. We have been having waves of low skilled Hispanic immigrants for going on 40 years now. And the one example he comes up with is a Cuban. Why does Stoll hate Mexicans?

  • Calidissident||

    Asian immigrants have outnumbered Hispanic immigrants for a few years now. The notion these days that the vast majority of immigrants are Mexican, or even Hispanic, is patently false. It may have been true in the past, but it isn't now.

  • John||

    True. But we had a lot of them in the past. You would think that Stoll could have made the effort to come up with some examples of their successes rather than relying on Jews, whose mass immigration happened decades before the Mexicans and a Cuban.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Interestingly, every example Stoll gave of uneducated immigrants making good, with the exception of Rubio, appears to be Jewish. Too bad our immigration problems have nothing to do with being overwhelmed by uneducated Jews.

    Fail, dude.

  • mtrueman||

    "Too bad our immigration problems"

    We have immigration problems? Who knew?

  • Acosmist||

    So, what will the tens of millions of Americans with IQs insufficient ever to engage in skilled labor do? Mooch? Or what? Why do they get the shaft?

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