5/24/2007

Breaking down the melting pot...

The United States is often referred to by politicians as a melting pot, which is one way of saying that we are all either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants (or in the case of Native Americans, the descendants of those persecuted by immigrants). Therefore, it would make sense for us to all have passionate opinions on our nation's immigration policy, and we should expect that those opinions are based on the highest quality information available. While I can say confidently that there are few Americans that do not have strong feelings about how we as a country should regulate immigration, I cannot say with any confidence that the information underlying these opinions is worthy of any label other than partisan talking points.

I have been fascinated by the free information and charts that are made available to bloggers and journalists through the new web service at Swivel.com, and graphs such as the one below will likely be the inspiration of many blog postings to come. This information on country of origin for temporary workers in the US is particularly relevant, I believe, in light of the ongoing debate over immigration policy, which is one of the most heated and partisan debates in modern political discourse. It is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction when weighing the arguments put forward by proponents of policy on either the far right or left of the political spectrum, so rather than address the ridiculous information that is fed to us by partisan hacks, it would be far more constructive to address the data provided by the statisticians about who is here and where they are from.

At the heart of the immigration debate is the heated argument over what should be done to either close or monitor traffic across our southern border, which many conservatives consider to be our greatest national security vulnerability, and as a result the immigrants that endure the greatest amount of scrutiny and suspicion are primarily those from Mexico and Latin America. One would be forgiven if they assumed that most temporary workers in the US were of Mexican origin, but the following graph makes clear that this simply is not the case, or at least it makes clear that documented temporary workers are not primarily of Latin American origin, but in fact come from the other side of the world.

Most immigrants who are here on temporary worker visas are in fact from India, and though this graphic does not breakdown further into what industries and jobs these immigrants have found employment, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the majority of Indian immigrant workers are in highly skilled positions. It would also be reasonable to assume that these are highly educated individuals and are unlikely to be a drain on public services and welfare programs, considering the familial culture from which they come. If interests on the extreme fringes of the political discourse are allowed to marginalize the public debate, with one side screaming "DISCRIMINATION", while the other side is screaming "AMNESTY", then the people who suffer the consequences of the consequent inaction above all others are those that have followed the law and make a valued contribution to American society and may have wishes of becoming Americans themselves.

I am sympathetic to those who insist that there must be accountability for those immigrants who have gamed the system and have been allowed to thrive while here illegally undocumented, but any immigration policy must make it a priority to determine how to offer these valued and documented temporary workers a realistic and attractive solution for becoming permanent residents and eventually citizens. We cannot allow those that have come here illegally to get a free pass, or in other words, earn legal status without consequences. However, we are a country that forgives, and any policy that embraces forgiveness in exchange for penance is not amnesty; it is practical and in America's national interest.

The melting pot

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