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Belmont Club

As American as Apple Pie

April 29th, 2010 - 4:13 pm

Victor Davis Hanson says that both “showing your papers” and discrimination are as American as apple pie. With respect to the “papers please issue”, Hanson writes in the National Review that: “I have done that numerous times this year — boarding airplanes, purchasing things on a credit card, checking into a hotel, showing a doorman an I.D. when locked out, going to the DMV”.  But Professor Hanson’s most interesting point is that certain kinds of discrimination are viewed as instruments of “fairness”. For example, take life at the University.

we already profile constantly. When I had top classics students, I quite bluntly explained to graduating seniors that those who were Mexican American and African American had very good chances of entering Ivy League or other top graduate schools from Fresno, those who were women and Asians so-so chances, and those who were white males with CSUF BAs very little chance, despite straight A’s and top GRE scores. The students themselves knew all that better than I — and, except the latter category, had packaged and self-profiled themselves for years in applying for grants, admissions, fellowships, and awards. I can remember being told by a dean in 1989 exactly the gender and racial profile of the person I was to hire before the search had even started, and not even to “waste my time” by interviewing a white male candidate. Again, the modern university works on the principle that faculty, staff, and students are constantly identified by racial and gender status …

The unseen third party in the Arizona immigration debate is “positive discrimination”. Asking for people to be actually subject to the same criteria is particularly objectionable because it undermines an implicit public policy goal of giving ‘disadvantaged’ groups a leg up by making things easier for them.  It’s not discrimination that’s bad, but the kind of discrimination that matters. In this world, it is immoral to ask a ‘poor migrant’ to produce papers. That’s “Nazism” but a ‘rich migrant’ of the same color is not only subjected to the “papers please” requirement but asked to post bonds, show property ownership, exhibit bank accounts, subject himself to security clearances, health checks and attend interviews with a nameless consular official sitting behind an armored glass window. And then if he does all that, he can be asked to wait. And wait. And wait. Hanson describes how this works:

Literally thousands of highly skilled would-be legal immigrants from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe wait patiently while others cut in front and illegally obtain what others legally wait for — residence in the U.S. … It is a bit strange that those of the upper classes are outraged over Arizona without empathy for entry-level U.S. workers or lower-middle-class taxpayers who end up paying the most for illegal immigration. But then, those who express the most moral outrage often are the least sensitive to the moral questions involved.

Wikipedia describes the kinds of waits involved for different categories of legal immigrants. It might take a legal immigrant five years to be reunited with his wife or minor child or 11 years to see his brothers. And if you’re a skilled worker the waiting line is the better part of a decade long. But that’s because you’re not a ‘migrant’, because in that case it’s a moral duty to help them across the border by leaving stashes of water, food. The people smugglers benefit thereby, but that’s nothing to the point.

CATEGORY NUMBERS WAITING WAITING TIME
F1 Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens 23,400 6–7 years
F2A Spouses and minor children (under 21 year old) of lawful permanent
residents
87,934 4–5 years
F2B Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of lawful
permanent residents
26,266 9–10 years
F3 Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens 23,400 8–9 years
F4 Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens 65,000 10–11 years
EB3 Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers 40,000 7–8 years

But in any case the legal immigrant or visitor will have to show his papers.  And what papers! Anyone who thinks that showing your papers on American soil isn’t normal might want to read this description of what its like to attend a visa interview in Melbourne, Australia.

If you are going to the US for less than 90 days you don’t need a visa. In our case, we were planning to spend several weeks in Canada … includes time spent visiting a neighbouring country … so the total time … would be counted as more than 90 days …

We arrive at the Consulate .. .wait outside the locked door on the ground floor. We are the first in line. The security guard opens the door and asks the nature of our business … It seems as though this is registering the fact that we have entered the building. We each register our name and passport number and print a registration form which we have to carry with us together with our passport. The guard then checks our registration forms and our passports. …

You then have to remove your belt and shoes and empty your pockets. These items together with any items you are carrying go through an airport-style x-ray machine. You then walk through an airport-style scanner. At the other side you get your belt and shoes. You can keep your valuables and documents needed for the interview but other items (e.g. raincoats) are placed in a locker and you are given a locker token. …

you are escorted to the 6th floor where there is another security station. This time you don’t have to remove your belt and shoes but you do have to empty your pockets. All our items go through another airport-style x-ray machine and we get to walk through another airport-style scanner. It seems as though this guy’s job is to check that the first guy has done his job properly. He does this by opening wallets, etc. and checking inside. In our case he found a small pencil in Ruth’s diary which should have been picked up at the first security station. He holds this for pickup on our exit. …

We are then given a numbered ticket … At window number 1 there is a guy behind the counter. It looks as though he is behind bullet-proof glass. Communication is via microphone and speakers. He asks to see our paper work and photos. We pass the documents through the slot under the window. He sorts the documents and checks that everything is OK. He passes back any items they don’t need. …

After a few minutes our number is called and we go to window number 2. This is the fingerprint scanning station. They scan the four fingers on each hand and then the two thumbs side by side. After a couple of attempts Tom is asked to wipe his fingers on his forehead to get some more oil on them. This seems to help although the glass on the scanner gets smeared and we have to clean it with a tissue. After a couple of more tries including pressing the fingers more firmly on the glass we have a successful scan. …

After a few minutes our number is called and we go to window number 3. The first step is to have one of your index fingers scanned so they can check your fingerprint against the ones they just captured 5 minutes before in the window right next to the current window. The guy asks a few questions about the purpose of your trip and family ties in Australia.

The Australian family who described their experiences were delighted at the courtesy they were shown and the fact that their visas arrived by courier the next day. You couldn’t do better at the papers pliz game than if you were at the prisoner’s visiting area in Sing-sing. And yet Al Sharpton talks about apartheid states and Nazis. In reality any illegal immigrant who is actually treated like a legal immigrant or visitor would sue for the violation of his human rights — and win.

As Professor Hanson wrote, “those who express the most moral outrage often are the least sensitive to the moral questions involved”. But not oblivious to the financial and political advantages. What do you call a policy which protects a certain class of livelihoods and a specific political agenda? You call it “fairness”. Call it that, but if you believe it there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.

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To question fairness is to question not only discrimination, but certain kinds of discrimination. And you don’t want to go there. Just move on. After all, that’s the way the game is played: by any means necessary; politics is war by other means; if you can’t the stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, etc, etc. For those who don’t accept the morality of it, the real challenge  is not to get mad but to get politically even. It’s worth a thought anyway.


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