President Trump recently proposed an immigration bill that would increase the number of highly skilled individuals (good idea) but limit the number of family and refugee immigrants (bad idea).
This is not the first time such proposal has been circulated. In 1897, Congress proposed a legislation requiring a literacy test for would-be immigrants. The President then, Grover Cleveland, had the wisdom to veto it. In his veto message, President Cleveland wrote, “It is said, however, that the quality of recent immigration is undesirable. The time is quite within recent memory when the same was said of immigrants who, with their descendants, are now numbered among our best citizens.” How wise and wonderful this statement by President Cleveland was back in 1897 and how true it is today!
Had President Cleveland not vetoed that legislation in 1897, many of our own Chaldean community would not be here today. Many of the early Chaldean immigrants came directly from villages where they had little education and skills except for farming. They were exactly the type of immigrants who Congress at the time thought undesirable. Yet, many of those Chaldean came here, worked hard, established a wonderful life, and now many of their children are professionals, doctors, lawyers, successful business people, and so on. It would really be a pity if our community looks at current immigrants who might be just as unfortunate in their opportunity to gain a high education as many of our ancestors were.
America is the land of opportunity. If we limit our immigration to only those with high skills, we will become the land of second opportunity, open only to those who have had the chance to get a higher education in their own country. But many of those unskilled people who come here, risking their lives for a better opportunity for their kids, have the genes of ambition and courage; they simply did not have the opportunity to flourish in their own country. That is why America is considered history’s greatest experiment. America’s essence is that a human being, given the chance, can thrive and be his or her very best, and that only restrictions of class, circumstances, and limitations that exist in the old world are the hindrance. If we give up those ideals, then America will become just like any other country.
This does not mean that we should not welcome the highly skilled. Those are very much needed. But the numbers of those highly skilled should not be increased at the expense of refugees and less educated immigrants who very much resemble our ancestors many of whom came from poor villages of northern Iraq.
N. Peter Antone, Immigration attorney and former professor of Immigration and Nationality Law at MSU