A Day Without Immigration Rhetoric

I have long complained that The Great Immigration Debate is short on both facts and participants (Congress doesn’t seek our input). So in response to the recent A Day Without Immigrants campaign, I am hereby declaring  A Day Without Immigration Rhetoric. In order to give everyone time to prepare, I’ve set the date to be April 1. 🙂

OK, OK, forgive the tongue-in-cheek lead, but of course I was absolutely serious in that first sentence. The two sides have been talking past each other, typically with unsupported, sometimes deliberately deceptive arguments. Those who know my view won’t be surprised to hear me say that I find the Restrictionist side to be the more responsible one, but only relative to the Let in As Many As Possible side.

What sparked this post today was an article in the California Aggie, the student newspaper at my university, UC Davis (it does not appear to be online yet), which unwittingly brings up a number of issues related to these themes.

The article’s headline and lead report that Ali Baba, a popular Middle Eastern fast food cafe in town, closed in observance of A Day Without Immigrants, especially in protest of President Trump’s recent temporary travel ban; Ali Baba terms the action “unconstitutional.” The article then gives the usual pro-immigration quotes, but I was startled by one from a DC think tank that is generally regarded as leaning toward tightening up a bit in national immigration policy.

That think tank is the Economic Policy Institute. The article refers to a quote by ABC News of EPI Director of Immigration Policy and Research Daniel Costa, who noted that if all immigrants were to disappear tomorrow, our nation’s economy would be devastated. He cited construction and IT as examples.

I have enormous respect for EPI in general and Daniel in particular. But clearly he was setting up a straw man. Any sudden disruption to any system would likely cause turmoil, but that is irrelevant to the question of designing good long-term policy.

Moreover, the quote illustrates one of the most prevalent and pernicious types of fallacies in the immigration debate, the notion that without immigrants from Widgetland, we would have no one available to work in our bustling widget factories. And that is indeed a fallacy in most cases, sometimes directly demonstrably so.

Take construction, for example. Many of you will recall that after the ravaging of the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina, some local African-Americans were hired to help rebuild. But after a couple of days, their supervisor told them, “Y’all are fired, because the Mexicans have arrived.” Or consider the case of the security baggage screeners at SFO. They used to be almost exclusively Filipinos, and it was claimed that this simply wasn’t a job that mainstream people wanted to do. But after 9/11, Congress mandated that (a) the workers be citizens (the Filipinos were mainly green card holders) and (b) the workers be paid a decent wage. Lo and behold, TSA was inundated with applications from mainstream Americans. Today, the screeners at SFO are models of — dare I use the term? — diversity.

I teach computer science, and I would estimate that at least 75% of my American (not foreign student) undergraduate students are children of immigrants. You’d be amazed to see how many of them have first names beginning with Z — Chinese, Eastern European, Indian, Middle Eastern and so on.  In other words, without immigration, most of my students wouldn’t be in my classes. And for that matter, without immigration, neither would I myself be in my classes; indeed, I would not exist. 🙂 But I won’t flatter myself into thinking that there wouldn’t be someone else teaching CS instead of me, and that there wouldn’t be a student body whose roots go back more than just one or two generations. After all, most universities worldwide do not rely on children of immigrants to populate their classes.

In fact, in the case of IT, I have written — ironically, in a report for EPI — that the immigrant workers in the CS field are on average slightly weaker than their native peers. Note carefully that my analysis involved the former foreign students in U.S. universities, the immigrant group the industry considers the best of the ones coming from abroad. In other words, I have argued that on the whole, immigration has harmed the tech industry, and with it the American economy and ability to compete internationally. (I have thus called for stringent restrictions on work visas and employer-sponsored green cards,  but liberalizing the aspects of our current policy for visas and green cards for the truly Best and Brightest.)

One more point about the Aggie article: In reporting the widespread participation in A Day Without Immigrants, the story cites rates of nonattendance in various schools that day. In particular, it seems, a KIPP school in Dallas had droves of kids staying home. Fine, but KIPP schools are designed to help disadvantaged, low-income, typically minority kids do well academically and aspire to college. Assuming that a substantial number of those Dallas KIPP kids were from immigrant Latino families, the incident illustrates a sad truth: Immigration policy has winners and losers, and the losers tend to be minority/low-income folks, especially African-Americans. We know from study after study that this group is harmed in terms of work opportunities (see Katrina above), but it is seldom mentioned that resources aimed at improving academics for the lower class are spread thin by the large influx of working-class, poorly-educated immigrants. We must serve ALL kids in this category, but with highly limited resources to do so, immigration has a direct adverse impact.

In other words, the KIPP example, which the article is presenting as evidence that the populace wants more immigration, actually is an argument for having less immigration.

There are many such considerations arguing for tightening up on immigration. At the same time, there are other reasonable arguments for liberalizing policy. Where do we draw the line?

We as a nation need to discuss just what it is that we want from immigration, and how to achieve it. Unfortunately, no one is asking for our input on this, but even if someone did so, we be so handicapped by the paucity of fair, insightful analysis that our inputs would not be so meaningful after all. So, see y’all on April 1.



34 thoughts on “A Day Without Immigration Rhetoric

  1. The appropriate response to the kind of rhetoric mentioned about “sudden disappearance” would be to ask these kind of questions….
    1. Wouldn’t the sudden disappearance of black U.S. citizens cause the same kind of turmoil?
    2. Wouldn’t the sudden disappearance of white U.S. citizens cause the same kind of turmoil?
    3. Wouldn’t the sudden disappearance of Hispanic U.S. citizens cause the same kind of turmoil?

    So the writer’s rhetoric was sneaky — it shifted the focus from legal-vs-illegal, to “sudden disappearance”. Any sudden disappearance of any group would cause similar turmoil — perhaps even more so — as with the disappearance of illegal aliens.

    This kind of rhetoric is an “all or nothing” type of argument that is so typical with the Mudstream Media today. If the topic is health care, you’re given two choices:
    1. “Free” healthcare for all; OR
    2. Death for granny
    If the topic is drilling for oil, you’re given two choices:
    1. Coal and oil absolutely forbidden; OR
    2. The whole planet is a toxic waste dump
    And if the topic is immigration? You’re given two choices:
    1. Destroy all borders; OR
    2. Live under a Nazi government.


  2. 1) Re: “Those who know my view won’t be surprised to hear me say that I find the Restrictionist side to be the more responsible one, but only relative to the Let in As Many As Possible side”

    That’s the same basic logic that allowed a Trump win – not that one necessarily agreed with the Restrictionists (“Trump”), it’s that their view is more in line with yours – even if “only relative” – than the Let in As Many As Possible (“Keep things as they are with H”) side.

    2) One of the immigration issues I see in the national discussions is the mixing of terms: immigrants vs illegal aliens. Seems to be just call them all immigrants and confuse the issue – make it seem that the current administration wants to withdraw citizenship from legal immigrants and stop all immigration rather than putting a short-term hold on what are possibly and effectively enemies of the US. I see the administration’s stance as “Let’s put a hold on things for a few months until we get our ducks in a row”. Nothing more.

    “at least 75% of my American (not foreign student) undergraduate students are children of immigrants” and “without immigration, most of my students wouldn’t be in my classes. And for that matter, without immigration, neither would I myself be in my classes” overlooks this same difference.”

    Of that 75%, how many are here legally? Likely most of them. Same with your foreign students. I find mixing the issue of illegals vs legals to be the problem; not whether one is an immigrant or not.

    I liked your other example better – I think it fits the H1B argument better:
    “Congress mandated that (a) the workers be citizens and (b) the workers be paid a decent wage. Lo and behold, TSA was inundated with applications from mainstream Americans.”

    The American workers are there – they just can’t get hired; sometimes, many times, can’t even get an interview. How many of them would quit living off savings or retirement of welfare if the number of H1Bs were minimized? Eliminated?

    This ties in with the publicized need for STEM workers. I don’t see the shortage – my wife and I both hold advanced degrees in “hard science” fields (math, physics, engineering) and follow the job markets just out of professional interest. I don’t see the positions or salaries offered that suggest a shortage in many STEM fields. I personally have advanced experience in a very narrow field. I had an opportunity to discuss a position with an HR person at a well-know research facility – I was told there were 51 applicants. I wasn’t one of them but I didn’t realize that many people having the required qualifications in that field were looking for work. I’d have thought 3 – 5 at most. Were H1B’s among the applicants? Could be, I wasn’t told.

    The openings in math seem to be greatest for undergraduate mathematics instructors: for “remedial algebra” – under a different name of course – and even there, more applicants than positions. To hear the more-STEM people talk, one would think a masters in statistical mathematics would be fighting off offers rather than co-applicants.

    Maybe the shortage is in software. Neither of us are in that field, but observing flaws in our software society makes me think the US isn’t getting “the best and brightest” with H1Bs.

    I’ve worked in H1B facilities; I’ve worked with legal immigrants and naturalized citizens. Our corporations are based on short-term profits, labor is a huge if not largest expense, even much of BS-level engineering is now treated as a commodity business – companies are going to want the advantages H1B workers bring – semi-trapped and at lower than “standard” wages – “standard” being highly variable depending on circumstances and what needs to be proved to who.

    What the country – the corporate country – truly wants is the slave system back. Or maybe just a bit of freedom – as it was in 1870 or thereabouts: “Yep, you’re free. If you don’t like your pay, you’re free to go elsewhere. It’s not our responsibility to cover your housing and food. By the way, don’t forget the tab you ran up at the company store”. What I’ve seen of H1Bs bears a strong resemblance to that employment model.

    These issues are all tied together and can’t really be solved when each part is treated individually.

    What it really boils down to is the world population is too high. Fewer and fewer jobs for more and more people.



    • It has become standard for the media lately to use the term “immigrant” to mean “illegal immigrant.” I don’t like that, and have criticized it publicly before.

      I am sure that almost all of my students who are children of immigrants have parents who came here legally.


      • Yea. If there’s one thing that rankles me, almost more than anything else about the national debate on immigration, it is the way that liberals… borrowing a trick from conservatives… at some point managed to introduce their preferred “kinder and gentler” terminology for what we used to call “illegal aliens”, i.e. “undocumented immigrants”. This is among the most bullshit uses of language to try to mask reality that I’ve ever seen in my life. First off, they ain’t “immigrants” until the law says they are. Second, the term “undocumented” was deliberately chosen to make it sound as if the lack of documents was just due to some unfortunate oversight, e.g. they just forgot and left their documents in their other coat pocket.

        This sort of creative misuse of an otherwise elegant and exacting language (English) has always rankled me, at least ever since I read Edwin Neuman’s two books on the subject, some decades ago, i.e. “Strickly Speaking” and “A Civil Tongue”. (I recommend both highly to all who want to penetrate and see past modern doublespeak.)

        P.S. I can criticize “liberals” because I actually am one… on virtually all topics *except* illegal immigration.


    • >> What the country – the corporate country – truly wants is the slave system back. Or maybe just a bit of freedom – as it was in 1870 or thereabouts:

      Right on! The “experts-at-zenith” in the field would have an quick answer for that — “no one asked these Indians to come here, they can go back anytime they want,if they are frustrated or do not like this system”.. without realizing that the ones that go back (if any) would be filled with new ones and the law allows the ‘corporate country’ (like that phrase!) to get newer (and younger Indians to be tethered to them by golden handcuffs… Here’s the best one I heard from a libertarian expert – “It’s outrageous to compare indentured folks with slaves” — One must use “indentured” instead of “slavery” .. or so I am told ..

      >>One of the immigration issues I see in the national discussions is the mixing of terms: immigrants vs illegal aliens

      Here’s a subtle one that gets mixed up *all* the time – immigrants vs immigrants-to-be; no one, technically (per law) is an immigrant, no matter how much they assimilate or otherwise… Guess who all belong to the later for a life time … the “indentured” folks.


  3. At least on the Left Coast Asian kids seem to be leaving WASP kids in their dust and black kids will never catch up.It has nothing to do with skin color, only family/community social contract.

    Another generation and the majority of Left Coasters will have a nice brown skin color and we can get on with discriminating on the basis of education, ambition, and civility.


    • Asian-American kids tend to be extremely diligent, but a consequence of that is that they tend to lack passion for their fields and do only mediocre work after they graduate. This is not something the other Americans should aspire to.


      • Do you think the family involvement of the Chinese students is a result of the one child policy in China?

        In some cultures multi-generational households seem to be the norm. Even with visitors when guests come for 6 months. I cannot imagine being away from my home for extended periods of time. When someone visits for 6 months or a year, he/she is not a “visitor” in the usual sense but a core family member. It is for this reason that I believe immigration reform will keep the parents preference in the family reunification categories. I believe this influences the behavior of the third generation; one feels the responsibility of supporting not only himself but also his parents and grandparents.Even when my mother lived with us when she was in her late 70s and 80s in the mid stage of dementia (I described her as a 5 foot tall toddler), she was financially independent.

        Traditional American families of my generation expected both parents and children to care for themselves rather than expect the children to support their elders. Without the weight of being responsible for their elders, the younger generation is more self absorbed and less dedicated to their studies. While many will eventually care for their elders, it is likely to be later in life and not when parents retire in their 50s and children are still at home.


        • There seems to be fair degree of bipartisan consensus that the Fourth Preference, under which an adult citizen (typically naturalized) can sponsor his/her adult siblings for immigration, will be repealed if/when a comprehensive immigration reform bill is enacted. I believe that the sponsorship of parents will either be repealed as well, or greatly restricted in terms of access to welfare programs. (The latter being a very big problem.) Canada has already taken such steps.


          • Right now they’re leaning toward parents can get a 5 year visa, if child can prove they have resources to support the parent.
            Our current policy, chaining green cards for relatives, is killing Medicaid, as 2 elder parents per immigrant becomes medicaid recipient having put $0 into the system. And as my H1B-origin friends tell me, that is the big prize to life/work in the US.


        • Tremendous pressure due to intense competition in China and India – I don’t think the average American gets that – literally billions in competition for the few resources of school admission and jobs. Second, children ARE parents entire retirement plan in those two countries.
          As for US kids being self-absorbed – I blame the self-absorbed helicopter/bulldozer parents for that, something that didn’t exist decades back.
          Both are hell at work to deal with, “Where’s my gold star for the day?”.


      • In countries like China and India (i.e. the east), there is a culture of deference to authority. It is said that such a culture stifles innovation, but, I believe could be quite productive for other tedious jobs like Software Development. At the top echelons of R&D & innovation in the US, there are still many individuals with European background, which shows that the vast majority of non-immigrant workers (presumably from Asia, hired in the past decade or so) are not eligible for these jobs. But, I don’t think this difference in culture should affect eligibility of any American to be hired for any kind of job, present or future. Personally, I prefer to adhere to eastern philosophy. So, it would be interesting to see whether the eastern societies can make this fundamental change or will the rich eastern traditions (if taken seriously, like Steve Jobs did) be enough for them to rival the US in terms of R&D and technological innovation in the future (when they have the same standard of living as the western societies).


          • You’re right that Software Development is a lot of creative fun, if novel algorithms are being developed through your own expertise of some field of study (like Image Processing in AI). But, it is tedious, if you consider the fact that a Software Developer (in industry) can be moved from one team to another anytime, just to write & test a bulk of code. There is not much specialization in this area, I am sure an Electrical Engineer or a Controls Engineer in R&D has more challenging problems to solve. By the way, they too are very good at coding.
            Just to back up my claim, when I was a recent hire for a Software Engineering position, my team lead told me “the only way you would lose your job is if you say no”.


        • I fully expect at some point, India and China will determine they don’t need US capitalist (basically a profit tax) for their ventures/wares. It took Japan a few years to pin down quality but once they ironed that out, they were up and running independently. HOWEVER, they were nowhere’s near the population levels of China and India. I don’t get Modi – he’s in the US asking Indian techs to come back to India, and on the flip side asking UK’s Theresa May for more work visas (still trying to export India’s population).


          • When Obama visited S. Korea for G20 Summit in 2010, his officials’ smartphones stopped working because S. Korea’s 4G was too advanced. So, there is definitely a shift in technological dominance towards Asia, but, Japan, S. Korea still don’t innovate very much.


            The reason for imitating the west is western medicine, technology, economic and military strength. But, if the US is the world leader in technological innovation, why aren’t they leading in clean energy technology (all that they did was to abide by the Paris Climate Accord)?

            The last time I read about Modi, he was asking the US congress to have a long-term view on the H-1B visa (and Outsourcing).


    • I know many Indian American children and they do well in school but are still required to go to tutors on nights and weekends. The older ones are driven through college and find themselves in the official parentally approved profession and less than thrilled about where they’ve landed. But it does look good on paper.
      The Chinese American children I know picked their own professions and seem to be content with where they were headed and where they’ve landed.
      White AngloSaxon (where you get the idea Protestant is beyond me) varies a great deal, as you’d expect, being as their parents are of various economic backgrounds, unlike the majority of first generation Asian Americans.
      As for black kids, and never catching up, I can only say it looks like a Republican mandate to see to it that that happens, via jailing their fathers, for free convict labor. And their reinstantiation of ‘separate but equal’ school reconfiguration via ‘charter’ and ‘voucher’.


      • Actually, no one can beat the Chinese when it comes to tutoring schools, a huge business.

        In terms of socioeconomic background, in the Chinese case the immigration pattern is currently about half via employer-sponsored green cards and half through family ties. In the latter case, there is a large fraction from lower socioeconomic classes. I am less familiar with the Indian case, but no, they are not all from highly educated families.


  4. “What the country – the corporate country – truly wants is the slave system back.”
    Having dug into that topic extensively lately, the slave system never stopped, it merely transformed.
    “Slavery By Another Name” Douglas Blackmon. Post Emancipation Proclamation, the south swiftly transitioned to convict labor – free of cost slaves. Just point, accuse, and have the convict delivered to worksite. As completely free of cost, they worked to death 1 in 3 per year.
    “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander. Civil Rights sprung them loose, and so next up was “War On Drugs” and then, only after passing that law, black neighborhoods were flooded with crack. A mere 5 grams was a felon and the stuff the white people use, cocaine, 5 ounces is a felon. So the US is back up to 3 million in prison – industry’s free convict labor – indoor slavery.
    Outdoors, illegal and “temporary” visa indentured.
    You can see the employer intent to be illegal, hence their use of illegal labor.


  5. When does one stop being a child of immigrants and a hyphenated American?

    In my case, the immigrants were my grand and great grand patents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. My parents never visited or felt they had ties to their parents’ countries of birth; they grew up in English speaking households although their parents’ first languages were not English. In my DH’s case, we can trace his family members to the Jamestown colony, through the American Revolution and the founding of the Republic of Texas. My children are German,Russian,Rusyn,Scottish,Irish,Welsh,English-American. If they were to claim another nationality it would be Texan.

    Native Americans are the only true non-hyphenated, children, grandchildren, … of immigrants. However, my and DH’s family’s ancestors helped build the country and served in the military since the Revolution War. Can we just be plain American rather than be expected to have loyalties elsewhere? My loyalty is strictly with my neighbors who themselves or their ancestors may have come from Africa, Asia, South America, as well as Europe.


    • It isn’t going to go away. Because of two reasons.
      – The casual – Where’d you get that recipe? – heritage reason – my German grandmother. This is something we enjoy.
      – The serious – white privilege. Probably the most obvious was mentioned recently by Harvard – they were reserving some admissions for descendants of black slaves held by them, “like their legacy admissions”. Who do you think are the main recipients of “their legacy admissions”?
      My Mr. thinks EEO is a bad idea, it flies in the face of meritocracy. He, a legal immigrant, is assuming the US is meritocracy, and it isn’t. Legacy admissions exist in schools, in work, in clubs, etc.


  6. “We as a nation need to discuss just what it is that we want from immigration,..”

    My personal desires are as simple to express as they are complicated to actually put into practice, because doing the latter requires drawing some fine distinctions that are quite difficult to draw, in practice.

    I want U.S. immigration to be a model of compassion which will be honored and respected throughout the world… but only for NON-ECONOMIC immigrants. If it were up to me, I’d try to let in everybody who passes vetting and who is coming from Syria or Eritrea or any other country where there’s a significant likelyhood of being killed or enslaved just for who you are or what you believe. I look back… as do many others… on the US’s refusal to accept all but a token number of Central European Jews during the rise of faschism in the 1930’s and I say that we must never be so callous again.

    Problem is, there’s no sharp or clear dividing line or litmus test that can clarify, in all cases, which individuals are fleeing repression and which are merely fleeing bad economic conditions. And also, if we were to carry my kind of “compassion” too far, then in short order we would be hosting the entire populations of Hounduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, because there are very real and entirely non-economic reasons, at present, for any sane person to want to flee those countries.


    I personally don’t know how to untie this Gordian Knot. What I do know is that we’ve got one helluva lot of people… both legal and illegal immigrants… in this country who are clearly here strictly for economic reasons, and I personally would like see them all sent back home. Yes, all of them. Well, except for maybe some of the PhDs, but only if they are going to be doing meaningful research.


    • After the 1989 suppression of student protests in Beijing, the Chinese foreign students in the U.S. demanded that Congress give them all green cards. Many had participated in sympathetic protests here in the U.S., and they claimed fear of persecution were they to return home to China.

      A friend of mine responded with an interesting thought experiment: If offered refuge in, say, Tonga, would the Chinese students take it? The answer was obviously No; the students wanted the material benefits that living in the U.S. would bring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • OK, so maybe there *is* a litmus test that can be applied in order to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the migrants who are primarily seeking economic benefits, as opposed to those fleeing actual violence and repression.


        Proposed new rule: Any person applying to the United States for refugee status/visas shall be required by law to maintain full-time residence in one or another of the following locales, continuously, for a period of at least five (5) years: Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, United States Virgin Islands, or American Samoa.

        Since, presumably, the Rule of Law, as codified and practiced within these United States, does apply within these locales, applicants fleeing violence and/or repression could feel safe from such difficulties in these locales.

        If such a statute existed, then I think that we *could* actually accept basically unlimited numbers of (legitimate non-economic) refugees, from Syria, from other Middle East trouble spots, from other places where repression and/or violence is rife, and even from Hounduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, provided that there were all subject to the restriction above, and provided that that restriction were meticulously and vigorously enforced.

        (Note that this is a rather dramatically different scheme from the controversial one currently employed by Australia in its efforts to fend off mass quantities of economic and non-economic refugees, i.e. the one where Australia basically pays another country…Papua New Guinea… to take them all and to keep them in rather entirely deplorable “camps”.)

        Well, anyway, it’s an idea. Probably worth what you paid for it.


        • This is similar to the idea, brought up by the Republicans, to legalize the unauthorized immigrants, with full rights to work etc. but WITHOUT the rights of citizenship. This seems so reasonable, considering the illegal/alegal actions of the unauthorized immigrants (at least those who came here as adults), but the Democrats immediately screamed “You’re making them second-class citizens!” Same thing if you send the refugees to American Samoa etc.


    • The US cannot take in all who want to come. Moreover, there will be conflicts until the end of time. People need to step up and defend their own countries and cultures.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The “security baggage screeners at SFO” example looks very interesting.
    Is there a link to any news report, evidence or research about this?



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