The Problem That Vexes


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

–Part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty

They are not only stunningly simple. They solve a vexing problem that has divided the country in an ugly way. They are humane and the only surprising thing is that no one thought of them before.   Illegal immigrants would not be fleeing Alabama but would instead be buying houses, starting new businesses and enrolling in universities.  They would validate the motto on the base of the Statue of Liberty that greets the poor as they arrive on our welcoming shores and invites them to feel at home.

Of several proposals that have been introduced in Congress that will ameliorate the problems of the illegal immigrant, two promise a visa and another, easier access to a green card.  One was proposed by Senators Charles Schumer (D.NY) and Mike Lee (R.Utah).   Their proposed legislation is part of a major immigration overhaul and has the catchy name of  “Increasing Home Ownership by Priority Visitors.”

The Increasing Home Ownership Bill provides that a foreigner (who would be an illegal immigrant but for this piece of legislation) can get a visa by the simple act of spending $500,000 on residential real estate anywhere in the country. The immigrant would not have to buy one $500,000 house.  He or she could buy a $250,000 house and a rental property for another $250,000.  Since the legislation does not permit the immigrant to work, the visa holder would still have to get a work permit but if the illegal has rental income, he or she would no longer need to work and could instead live off the rental income.

When I first read about this I had hoped the banks could get involved as well.  Although many illegal immigrants do not have the income to qualify for a $500,000 loan, if the banks applied the same criteria to help qualify unqualified borrowers for loans they cannot afford that they were applying a few short years ago, the illegal immigrant earning $10 to $20 an hour would have no trouble getting a loan.  Sadly, even if banks were willing, the legislation would not permit it.  This particular piece of legislation is not intended to help the tired and the poor.  It is for wealthy foreigners, many of whom probably already have nice houses in their home countries.  It requires cash payment and most illegal workers will not be able to come up with the cash.  That’s a shame.

Another piece of “but for this you would be an illegal immigrant” legislation has the catchy title of the StartUp Visa Act of 2011.   That bill was introduced in March of this year by John Kerry (D- Ma.) and Richard Lugar  (R-Ind).  It authorizes the issuance of visas not to farm workers who might solve the agricultural industry’s problems of not being able to find workers to harvest crops, but to a qualified immigrant entrepreneur.  According to the Congressional Research Service Summary, the Act provides a StartUp visa for a “sponsored alien entrepreneur: (1) with required amounts of financial backing from [certain individuals or entities] and (2) whose commercial activities will generate required levels of employment, revenue or capital investment.” There are other requirements as well but the foregoing gives the reader an idea of what a wonderful thing this law will be.  It will make up for the fact that, as the Republicans constantly remind us, Americans are not starting new businesses because of onerous tax laws.

The foregoing are not the only immigrants who would be illegal but for the assistance of Congress.  Another group is the highly educated foreigner.  This has become increasingly important as states and the federal government cut back on funding for education making it harder for Americans to get educated.  Raol Labrador (R-Id) has proposed  “The American Innovation and Education Act of 2011.”

According to the Immigration Law Center, The American Innovation and Education Act of 2011 would “focus on granting green card access to foreign students who earn advanced technology and science degrees in the United States.”  That makes sense since there are many foreign students in this country earning advanced degrees.  In Arkansas, for example, Miehael Gealt, the dean of the University of Arkansas’s College of Science and Mathematics, says 70 to 80 percent of the students in his doctoral program are foreign students.  If these students can get jobs in this country, our advances in science and industry will not be hindered just because cuts in education funding have reduced the number of Americans getting advanced degrees.   Wealthy foreign students who come here to study can take the jobs that would otherwise have gone to American students had they been able to afford the necessary education.  Of course, none of the above is going to help the illegal immigrant who is being run out of town or the agricultural industry that relied on the immigrant’s services.  I guess Congress can’t help everyone. 

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.


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