David R. Henderson  

Bonding with Immigrants

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It was a beautiful scene in so many ways. Such diversity, such shared joy in suffering, such determination to push through and triumph over the odds. We were equal in our provisions: we all had one cot, one blanket, one tiny pillow. We got to know each other very quickly. The presumption of friendship was there even before one word was exchanged.

Imagine a California Valley Girl, my Pakistani friend, a Houston cabbie, an older widow, a surfer dude, a middle-age woman from Costa Rica, people of all races and classes, and imagine all of us having a strange slumber party, laughing and talking and telling stories. This was more fun that I could have had at the nicest hotel.

This is from Jeffrey Tucker, "Living Like a Refugee," June 19, 2014.

It's about his time being stranded overnight at O'Hare Airport and bonding with strangers because he had Wi-Fi and let everyone around him use it.

It's a sweet story. Jeffrey quickly reaches the conclusion that this experience shows that we can get along without government. Now, I happen to think that, absent a foreign invasion, we probably could get along without government. I'm not sure, though, that you can generalize so far from this one pleasant incident.

But that's not where I want to go in this post. Some time ago, Vipal Naik of Open Borders asked me to write up my experiences with immigration. I immigrated from Canada, becoming a resident alien (picture the antennae on my head) in 1977 and a U.S. citizen in 1986, the day Reagan bombed Libya. I had two bad experiences with the immigration authorities, one in 1973 and one in July 1977. I might write them up sometime.

But I want to talk about one of the most pleasant days in my life, one that I was reminded of by Jeffrey Tucker's post.

It was in October 1977. I was teaching at the University of Rochester and I needed to immigrate by going to the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. (That's because of the July 1977 incident mentioned above: I had tried to immigrate through the Immigration "Service" in Buffalo, but they had turned me down and informed me that they would undertake deportation proceedings against me. That's when I had hired a young lawyer in Rochester, Jeffrey Chamberlain, who, although he had never done an immigration case in his life, handled this one beautifully.)

The week before I drove up to Toronto, I went over all the documents with Jeff, making sure I had all the right ones and that the ones that were to be sent ahead to the U.S. Consulate had been sent. Sunday night, before driving up, I went over the documents 3 or 4 times, making sure again that they were all there and knowing where in the thick stack to access any particular document when asked.

In the waiting room in the Consulate were about 15 to 20 people from all over the world, trying to immigrate to the United States, just as I was. We all looked a little nervous and we didn't talk much to each other. But we bonded nevertheless. As each person came out of the Consulate offices and gave a positive sign, either with a smile or a look of relief or maybe a thumbs up (I've forgotten whether people used thumbs up in those days), we applauded. It built and built.

Then it was my turn. I entered and talked to two U.S. officials. First was a woman who had attitude. She was unpleasant and seemed almost to be looking for me to have made a mistake. I'll never forget her asking where a particular form was and my reaction.

DRH: You have that form. It was sent to you some time ago.
Government official (aggressively and triumphantly): No, I don't.
DRH (aggressively back, reaching in my stack and pulling out a letter): Yes, you do. Here's the letter from you to my attorney acknowledging receipt.
Government official (rattled and nervously looking through her papers): Uh, uh, oh yes, here it is.

That one moment was worth the $600 I had paid the lawyer's firm.

I was then sent to the second official. He was very pleasant. It was clear from his pro forma questions--do you have a criminal record, that kind of thing--that I was in. A few minutes later, I emerged into the waiting room with a huge grin on my face. I was in. People in the waiting room applauded.

COMMENTS (23 to date)
Filomena writes:

RIDICULOUS ! as well as HATEFUL of THE USA . Why did you come here ? We have the right to deny entry to illegal "immigrants" IT'S, was, THE LAW before Obamadisaster .

David R. Henderson writes:

Really? Hateful of the USA? Why? Which particular sentence triggered that comment? Does it occur to you that my wanting to come here had something to do with LOVING the USA?
Why did you come here ?
Because at the time, I perceived the U.S. to be a freer society than Canada. Also, there was a can-do spirit and an “ask for what you want” spirit in many Americans that was different from what I grew up with in Canada.
We have the right to deny entry to illegal "immigrants" IT'S, was, THE LAW before Obamadisaster .
We can argue about that until the cows come home, but, somehow, I think that arguing with someone who starts with RIDICULOUS is a fool’s errand.
But there’s no point in arguing about that in this context because I immigrated legally, as did all the people in that waiting room. Did you read far enough to understand that, Filomena?

Paul Bogle writes:

David, you have been Canada's loss and our gain.
Thanks for coming.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks, Paul.

Dan Hill writes:

I for one heartily support paying taxes so we can employ an army of unpleasant officials to keep us safe from the Canadian hordes with their hockey and their "eh" and all that politeness. This is why government is indispensable.

@Filomena - you are entitled to your own opinions on immigration (and I am free to strongly disagree). But neither of us is entitled to our own facts. By "Obamadisaster" I presume you are implying he is soft on illegal immigration. Too bad the FACTS say he has deported far more people than previous administrations.

@David - go treat yourself to an ice cream or perhaps something a little stronger. You deserve it after showing such restraint!

John Hall writes:

Filomena seemed so obviously over the line that I thought it was satirical when I first read it.

wes writes:

What is this post for? What does this have to do with economics?

Mr. Econotarian writes:

My least enjoyable immigration experience has regularly been at the Toronto airport when flying back to the US, getting a nasty grilling from the US ICE people who pre-screen you in Toronto (despite the fact that I am a US citizen with a US passport).

My best immigration experience is a tie between Hong Kong and Geneva airports. At both places, I was simply waved through (although in Hong Kong, it was after I went through an infra-red scanner to make sure I wasn't sick).

NZ writes:

@David Henderson:

I'm glad you're here too, as I enjoy reading your blog posts even when I disagree with them (which is a lot more now than a few years ago--I've changed) and you seem like a good neighbor and citizen.

Here are more reasons I'm glad you're here:

I don't have any trouble understanding your language because it's the same as mine. I'd guess you don't live in a Canadian enclave that celebrates Boxing Day or Commonwealth Day. I'd bet against a Canadian flag hanging outside your house or in your car's rear window. Most of your friends, coworkers, and maybe even your children-in-law are, I'll venture to assume, Americans. You probably don't let junk pile up in your yard, or even litter anywhere you go. I'd be very surprised to learn that you currently or ever previously claimed any welfare benefits. You're probably a net tax contributor.

Maybe there's an American professor and blogger who's out of a job because of you? But I don't care too much...professors and bloggers aren't really the backbone of our economy, and they're a fairly retrainable bunch anyway. Besides, there aren't millions and millions of foreign professors climbing over walls or stowing away in shipping containers. Maybe just a half dozen or so.

David R. Henderson writes:

First of all, thank you sincerely for being glad that I’m here and for your compliments about my neighborliness (notice that I even spelled it right, that is, without the “u”” :-)) and my good citizenship. I assure you that I am what you think I am in this respect.
I also understand some of the other things you’re glad about--not taking welfare, for example. And you’re right about the Canadian flag also.
Here was the sentence I didn’t get, and I wonder if you could help other readers and me understand. You wrote:
Most of your friends, coworkers, and maybe even your children-in-law are, I'll venture to assume, Americans.
You’re right, of course, but what I wonder is why that’s important to you. Why would it matter if, say, I lived in Silicon Valley and had many, say, Indians as friends or coworkers? I’m not attacking. I’m just curious.

Glen writes:

I'm not sure how much government-free spontaneous order is being celebrated in Tucker's Living Like a Refugee. Seem much more like utopian communal fantasy.

David R. Henderson writes:

What would make it a fantasy is if he imagined it. I’m not sure if you understood this, but he was talking about something that really happened.

LD Bottorff writes:

Your story reinforces my concern that immigration to this country is far more complex than it should be. If an English speaker with an advanced degree needs to spend 600 dollars to figure out the paperwork, is it any wonder that low-skilled workers just hop the fence? Is the 600 dollars you spent in 1977 comparable to what people are paying coyotes to get smuggled in today?

Paul Bogle writes:

@LD Bottorff

I suspect what coyotes can charge is more a function of the differential between what unskilled laborers earning potential in their home country and what they can earn here. Other factors may involve aspects of smuggling items like narcotics that migrants can volunteer/be coerced into participating in.

I'm not sure immigration costs incurred by someone "teaching at the University of Rochester" can be illustrative of prices charged by human traffickers.

David R. Henderson writes:

@LD Bottorff,
Your story reinforces my concern that immigration to this country is far more complex than it should be. If an English speaker with an advanced degree needs to spend 600 dollars to figure out the paperwork, is it any wonder that low-skilled workers just hop the fence?
It wasn’t mainly a matter of understanding the paperwork, complex as that was. The real problem was getting the Ph.D. so that I could be certified by the Labor Department. The Labor Department’s certification arrived 2 months after my visa expired, which is why they turned me down in Buffalo and undertook deportation proceedings.
If low-skillled workers could simply pay $600, inflation-adjusted, which would be about $2,400 today, and be legal immigrants, they would grab it in a New York minute. What so many Americans don’t understand is that, for the vast majority of foreigners, there’s simply no legal way to immigrate.

johnleemk writes:

As someone who has also legally immigrated to the USA, I often don't know whether to laugh or to cry when people assure me it is quite easy to immigrate to the US.

Even if low-skilled workers were to offer up their thousands in coyote fees to the US government instead, their money would be no good. There is only one large visa programme for low-skilled workers, which allows a certain number of agricultural workers entry to work on a limited, seasonal basis. Unless they are lucky enough to have family in the US who can sponsor them, low-skilled workers have literally no legal means to immigrate to the US, or even enter for guest work outside of very-limited seasonal agricultural jobs. They pay thousands of dollars to hop the fence because there is literally no legal way for them to pay the US government that money for legal entry instead.

johnleemk writes:

Lest you think I exaggerate re low-skilled immigration, the annual report of the US State Department's Visa Office is worth reading.

In 2013, there were only 21,144 employment-based immigrant visas issued -- virtually all other immigrant visas were family-based. (The only other large bucket of immigrant visas is the green card lottery, which has about 30,000 to 50,000 lucky winners a year.) But virtually all these employment-based immigrant visas went to high-skilled workers.

A low-skilled worker who wants to immigrate has to first find an employer willing to sponsor them. Then they have to contend with the fact that the immigrant visa queue is quite long (wait times for green cards, even in the family category, are often measured in years) and that the high-skilled workers seeking employment-based immigrant visas are generally ahead of them in line, thanks to the visa preference system.

As a result, only 1,634 people immigrated to the US under the "Other worker" (i.e., low-skilled worker) employment-based immigrant visa in all of 2013. Most of these visas went to "low-skilled immigrants" from just two countries -- China and South Korea. The number of people from Africa, North America, and South America combined who legally immigrated under this category is a little over 300. Three hundred and twenty three people, to be precise.

Unless you were clever enough to choose to be born into a family with ties to US immigrants or citizens, if you are a low-skilled non-US person, you basically have zero chance of ever immigrating legally to the US.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

In the language of Dr Scott Peck, the scene at the airport lounge is a pseudocommunity , which is the first stage to a genuine community. From Wikipedia
"well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other's ideas or emotions."

The characteristic of a pseudocommunity is conflict avoidance while in real community, conflicts are sought to be resolved. .

NZ writes:

@David Henderson:

It certainly would be unusual for a white Canadian guy to move to the US and make friends only with, or even mostly with, Indian immigrants. More likely, if he was going to make friends mostly with other immigrants it would be with other white Canadian transplants. That's just the way people are wired.

Your solid family, social, and work connections to Americans in the US, however, underscores the point that you have fully assimilated--and, I'd further guess, that you were eager to do so. (As opposed to, say, cloistering in with other Canadian emigres, angrily vowing the future reclamation of Oregon Country in the name of French Canada or some such thing.) In this regard, an assimilable (and thus, in my opinion, desirable) immigrant must be able to overcome his wiring, which is a remarkably rare ability.

So, I know it isn't necessarily what you were trying to say in your post, but I'm basically saying that you do NOT exemplify the case for mass immigration or open borders, and are instead more like the exception that proves the rule.

Many immigration enthusiasts like to paint their ideological opponents as bigots, xenophobes, and protectionism absolutists, so I'm also trying to show, in a limited way, that being against mass immigration or open borders in general does not mean one must be unwelcoming of any and all immigrants in particular.

Tim Kane writes:

Americans are lucky to have you, David! I expected this post to be about the use of bonds for distributing the precious many green cards America provides annually (1.1m), but what you wrote was even better.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Tim Kane,
Thanks, Tim. And welcome to Hoover, by the way.

blighter writes:

If I understand correctly, open borders are the best solution, morally and economically, but we could probably get along without a government "absent a foreign invasion".

My question would be how to define a "foreign invasion" in a world of open borders?

blighter writes:

@Dan Hill writes:

But neither of us is entitled to our own facts. By "Obamadisaster" I presume you are implying he is soft on illegal immigration. Too bad the FACTS say he has deported far more people than previous administrations.

Your "fact" -- like, unfortunately, many statistics generated by the current administration -- is a bit "truthy" in the sense that it's basically made up and not true.

In the past, people apprehended at the border and sent home were not considered to be "deportations" or "removals" and they constituted the vast majority of people excluded from the country. The Obama administration changed that and started counting lots of those "returns" as "removals", thus generating your "fact" of "record deportations". If you look at the overall number of people excluded from the country, you can see it's plummeted under the current administration. And, indeed, a large part of that is the drastic curtailment of interior removals, what would have been called "deportations" under past administrations. Only by changing the categorizations have they managed to create this totally artificial "fact" of "tough immigration enforcement".

See the chart at the bottom here:

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