TCS Daily

Green Card Blues

By Ilya Shapiro - February 2, 2006 12:00 AM

In October I wrote an autobiographical piece that was an anecdotal argument for immigration reform. I used my own story to illustrate certain absurdities and injustices within the American immigration regime, and the lack of principles behind our immigration policy.

For example -- despite having lived in the United States for over a decade (my entire adult life), worked for a senator, federal judge, and presidential campaign, and sworn four oaths to uphold the Constitution -- I am no closer to permanent resident status (a "green card"), let alone citizenship, than before I came.

At the opposite end of the immigration debate -- centering on unskilled workers flooding across the Mexican border -- America makes it difficult, if not impossible, for skillful, talented people to become Americans. It is perhaps self-serving of me to point this out, but I think this country would be better off if it were possible to get a green card by some method other than through family ties or a difficult-to-obtain employer sponsorship (on which more later). As it stands now, even those worthy skilled professionals who secure a quota-restricted temporary worker visa (H1-B) have to leave upon that visa's expiration, with no mechanism for applying for permanent residence -- unlike in every other immigrant-accepting country in the world.

In any event, in the three months since the first "My Story" article came out, enough has happened to warrant an update:

First, I have been overwhelmed by the email and other feedback I have received. Everything from missives of support to expressions of outrage. Probably most of the TCS readers who are immigrants chimed in to share their stories and to commiserate. And I want to thank all of them for reminding me that I'm not alone with my frustrations.

Many of the emails I received were direct responses to the last line of my article, which, acknowledging that marriage would be the only way I would ever get a green card, solicited "cute single girls with American passports." Yes, not only did I get contacted by women intrigued (or at least not scared off) by that statement, but I got a not insignificant number of emails from parents (and grandparents) offering to put me in touch with their offspring and their offspring's roommates, friends, and co-workers. And these emails are still coming! Apparently you, my faithful readers, have been good at circulating my story, and this thing has really taken on a life of its own. (Unfortunately, not one of my "prospects" lives here in Washington, so these email exchanges and phone calls can be tiresome.)

Second, around the time of that article, I started talking to senior officers in the Army about possibly joining the JAG Corps (military lawyers). I mean, I'm the most patriotic person I know. I believe in the rule of law. And I support our policy in Iraq. It'd be a logical fit. But I can't do it, of course, because you need to be a citizen to be an officer.

The solution? After meeting and consulting with all sorts of Defense Department officials, we concluded that I would have to get a private member's bill through Congress granting me citizenship. Such a request is currently pending—which is why I am not revealing more details about this process. So, to be clear, the only way I would be able to volunteer to serve our country in the war on terror is through federal legislation (that has to be signed by the President).

Finally, many people have asked me why, with all my "talents" and "skills" and "fancy education" I can't get an employer to sponsor me for a green card. Well, the answer to that question is that I have the distinct misfortune of being a lawyer in a country where lawyers are a dime a dozen.

In pursuing a move to a different law firm (for reasons unrelated to any of this discussion), I found several firms willing in principle to sponsor me. After rudimentary investigation, however, all found that this course of action would not be feasible. To be eligible for green card sponsorship, you see, the employer has to establish -- by jumping through various outlandish hoops -- that it could not find any American who meets the minimal qualifications for the job in question.

My position, that of a third-year litigation associate, can be filled by any lawyer who graduated law school in 2003 (in theory, practice and common sense not being either here or there when it comes to immigration regulations). The fact that I may be the most qualified person for the job, by a country mile, is wholly irrelevant. So I am happily moving to my new firm, but will be working there on a NAFTA work permit -- which means I am still no closer to a green card.

In other words, along with the single cute girls (preferably in the metro D.C. area), if you're a member of Congress who'd like to explore a bill in my name or an employer who wants to hire me and can meet the "labor certification" requirements, drop me a line.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last "Dispatches from Purple America" column lobbed a volley at Thomas Friedman from Colombia.


I agree --- BUT ---
I agree --- the immigration situation in the USA is totally screwed up. (BTW: I'm a native American --- I was born in Brooklyn!) My wife, from Russia, went through the same type of garbage as a teacher (and she's more Red-White-and-Blue than most Americans) --- however, how many REALLY QUALIFIED teachers do we have here today?

Unfortunately, you chose a profession that is "over-staffed." I mean, who needs the lawyers we have now. We could easily do away with all of them and improve the country. Have you thought of doing something to MAKE yourself unique?? There must be something an intelligent guy like you can come up with. I'd make suggestions, but I don't know you at all, so I can't do it.

However, your citizenship bill may --- or may not --- have a good chance in Congress. After all, Congress is jammed with lawyers. On the other hand, they might not want the additional competition.

Good luck!

On Green Cards
As a long time Green Card (they're Pink) resident, of the USA, I have seen the effect of more scams to circumvent the intent of Immigration laws; to the detriment of the US citizenry.

If this essayist Lawyer, wanted an immigrant visa (green card), he should have applied for that status in the country he came from, instead of using some subterfuge or other to come here in some other guise, and then hope to switch his status.

Special visas, such as student visas, were set up by the Congress for the purpose of helping educate persons from underdeveloped Nations, so they could then return to their native lands, and upgrade those countries prospects through their work, in their own country. It was never the intent, to bring them here as immigrants. Green card immigration visas should NEVER be available to anybody who is in the USA under some other visa program; they should stand in line in their own country like everybody else who comes here legally.

As for the H1B visa, it should be completely eliminated. Companies who believe they need immigrant workers with special skills unavailable in the USA, should be required to sponsor those candidates for Green card Immigant visa status.

The H1B visa allows companies to hire immigrant workers at substandard salaries, rather than hire American workers; and they keep those imports 'in line' by the threat of job termination and loss of visa status, since the H1B visa resides with the Company; not the worker.

If you don't want them here as permanent Immigrants, they shouldn't be allowed here just to work cheaply.

As for illegal invaders; the so-called undocumented workers, and the prospect of an amnesty program or a 'guest worker' program, Americans should understand that THERE IS NO MARKET for amnestized or legal guest workers.

Once these third world low paid 'guests' become legally entitled to remain in the United States, their would be employers, must now cover them for Social security taxes, and workers compensation insurance, and pay them at least minimum wage, and give them all the benefits of any legal resident worker.

So the moment these invaders become legal by whatever process, they leave their borderline slave labor situation, and go get a regular job with regular tax withholding, and benefits packages. That creates a vacancy for an ILLEGAL WORKER, who can be parasitized by greedy employers.

The key attribute of illegal workers, is the mere fact that they are ILLEGAL, and must do as they are told, and keep their mouth shut.

If every illegal in the USA were given a green card today; within a year, there would be just as many illegal invaders as there are today, because that is the status that unscrupulous employers want.

As for importing lawyers from anywhere; it is estimated that lawyers cost the American economy at least one million dollars apiece each year, with their ambulance chaser suits, and other nefarious activities. The last thing we need is more lawyers.

The essayist might consider some retraining program into a more useful career activity.

We don't import buggy whip manufacturers either; we have all we need.

It is the responsibility of the individual to do his own career retraining so he can offer job skills that people want to employ.

The author made reference to his N.A.F.T.A. status. As such he is not bound by the same rules as most green card holders/ potential immigrants.

It is much easier to transfer jobs between nafta countries. Consequently, the authorities have made it more difficult to change status from legitimate employment to citizenship status for those enjoying such benfits.

I know nothing about the author but assume from his description of his work history that he has his current employment because his employer sees him as better qualified than other potential employees.

Lawyers by their presence have imposed a cost on society but sometimes people forget that some costs aret there because it is even more expensive to pursue the available alternatives.

America is one of the most litiguous countries in the world. I suspect many on this board think that is a serious problem that requires drastic action and maybe it does. But just remember settling disputes on the basis of class, religious rulings, vendettas, kinship, criminal connections or any of the other non-juridicial dispute resolutions systems have their own economic, social and civil costs.

Try living in a system without the rule of law and see if you still wish there were no laws and lawyers to properly write them and interpret them.

The Shakespeare character who famously said _first we kill all the lawyers_ wanted to do so becuase he and his henchman wanted to set up a system of tyranny and the lawyers were the main obstacle. He was the evil character not the hero.

If you outlaw immigration only the outlaw will immigrate
America is a Nation of immigrants. It got where it is thanks to the inflow of immigrants from around the world and to its capacity to attract the bright and the best. The question then is how to encourage legal immigration and at the same time how to secure the borders: i.e. attract educated professionals (such as Mr. Shapiro) and keep out drugdealers, terrorists and crimminals.
The current immigration system is designed to do exactly the opposite.
Let's take the drugdealer example: a person in that line of business doesn´t particularly care which laws the congress passes on immigration or which walls are built (unless you go the whole nine yards and build a Berlin wall type structure, complete with mine fields, automatic weapons and on the WHOLE border, not just 700 miles).
The people that really care about the law are the educated, law abiding citizens that have a lot to loose for being on the wrong side of the law. If you keep the immigration system the way it is now(a disastrous mess as this article illustrates), you will do nothing to stop the drugdealer and do a lot to stop people like Mr. Shapiro. Telling him to wait in line in his own country is plain idiotic, since he mentions that he spent most of his life here (I assume that as a dependent until 21, as a student for a while and later as a professional). If he is forced to move out he is probably NOT coming back. And America would have lost a fine "citizen to be" while probably acquiring at the same day a few hundred new drugdealers.
The increase in the ratio of "drugdealers to normal people" in the immigrant population is in part the responsability of the people that oppose to pass an immigration reform that actually makes sense.
I am tired of hearing many talk radio hosts and congressmen that repeat that their only problem is with illegals, but at the same time they oppose any reform that would facilitate LEGAL immigration (for instance, only recently they blocked a H1B increase in quotas despite the fact that the current level has proven totally indaquate, they oppose to make it easier to gain citizenship for LEGAL immigrants, etc). Ironically, many of them have names as O´Hara (jut fictional, not an actual name), or Lupinsky (also fictional).
I remember a bumper sticker from the National Rifle Association that it said: "if you outlaw guns, only the outlaw will have guns". It is the same here: if you make it as difficult as it is today to immigrate, only the people that don´t care about the law will.

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