Why don’t we offer free tickets to San Francisco for asylum-seekers?

“Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Proclamation Targeting Some Asylum Seekers” (nytimes):

A federal judge on Monday ordered the Trump administration to resume accepting asylum claims from migrants no matter where or how they entered the United States, dealing at least a temporary setback to the president’s attempt to clamp down on a huge wave of Central Americans crossing the border.

Judge Jon S. Tigar [Obama appointee] of the United States District Court in San Francisco issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the government from carrying out a new rule that denies protections to people who enter the country illegally. The order, which suspends the rule until the case is decided by the court, applies nationally.

After the judge’s ruling on Monday, Lee Gelernt, the A.C.L.U. attorney who argued the case, said, “The court made clear that the administration does not have the power to override Congress and that, absent judicial intervention, real harm will occur.”

My comment:

I’m pleased to hear that the virtuous citizens of San Francisco, including at least this one judge, wish to welcome asylum-seekers and also pay them a $15/hour minimum wage. How about we offer plane tickets to SFO, SJC, and OAK for any asylum-seeker anywhere in the U.S.? My understanding is that San Francisco has an ample supply of public housing and other services for those at the lower end of the wage scale (and/or for those whose skills are not sufficient to command a $15/hour wage). Certainly folks in the Bay Area have big hearts and it wouldn’t be fair either to them or to the asylum-seekers for other states, regions, and cities not to assist the passage of all caravans straight through to Union Square.

I’m happy to pay for some Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit tickets. All that I ask for in return is a Smartphone [Obamaphone?] photo of the welcoming committee in San Francisco.

This was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but why doesn’t it happen? Californians say that they want immigrants, regardless of documentation status or skill level. Americans in other states don’t want more immigrants. Transportation is inexpensive. Why not make it easy for any asylum-seeker or undocumented immigrant to go to San Francisco?

[Separately, why is the ACLU involved? Its web site says that it is “the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution,” but do would-be immigrants have rights under the U.S. Constitution? If so, shouldn’t people in Afghanistan and Iraq have had the right to due process before getting bombed and shot? The ACLU is also recently against “due process” for college students who are accused of sex-related misdeeds. They say that this is because of their concern for “women and girls of color”, but Atlantic says that it is disproportionately “men of color” who are accused and kicked out. From the Atlantic article: “In 2015, in The New Yorker, Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard Law School professor, wrote that in general, the administrators and faculty members she’d spoken with who ‘routinely work on sexual-misconduct cases’ said that ‘most of the complaints they see are against minorities.’ (Professor Suk was a source for us on domestic violence and the potential for a one-hearing divorce, custody, and child support victory.) If the ACLU is enthusiastic about African-American men being stripped of the presumption of innocence in university-run sex tribunals, why wouldn’t they also advocate for the removal of what had been considered due process in ordinary criminal courts?]

Related:

  • “Unlimited Haitians for communities that prepare to welcome them?”: People in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Manhattan, Boston, etc. are criticizing Trump for voicing his opinion (wrong, by definition!) regarding living conditions in Haiti. They also criticize him for being unwelcoming toward low-skill immigrants from unsuccessful societies in general. What if Trump were to offer immigration proponents an unlimited supply of people, without any preference for those capable of working, on condition that immigration advocates use state and local tax dollars to pay for their housing, health care, food, and walking-around money? So if people in San Francisco want to build a 1000-unit apartment complex for Haitian immigrants, and folks will be permanently entitled to live there by paying a defined fraction of their income in rent ($0 in rent for those with $0 in income), and San Francisco commits to build additional apartment complexes in which any children or grandchildren of these immigrants can live, why should the Federal government stand in the way of their dreams? (Of course, the city and state would also have to pay 100 percent of the costs of Medicaid, food stamps, Obamaphones, and any other welfare services consumed by these immigrants or their descendants.) If there were no numerical limits on immigration, but host communities had to pay for the guests whom they were welcoming, Trump wouldn’t have to be the bad guy anymore. … 
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Immigrant Nobel laureates

A Facebook friend with a Ph.D. in Physics posted the following as her status:

All six US science Nobel prize winners this year are immigrants.

Last year, all six US noble [sic] prize winners were also immigrants.

I’m sharing this in case you still think “immigrants are ruining America.”

As part of my campaign to be defriended by everyone, I responded with

Did they all arrive in the same caravan from Honduras or was it six separate caravans?

I then pointed out that nobelprize.org shows 2018 U.S. winners having been born in exotic locales such as Pittsburgh, Norwalk, and New York City. But I helpfully supplied a video from an immigrant Nobel laureate in Physics (he won in the 1970s). Her response:

You can’t possibly feel threatened by 5K women and youth.

Me:

let’s maybe not encourage the caravan women to apply for the Nobel in Literature (see “The ugly scandal that cancelled the Nobel prize”)

One find: Wikipedia says that George Pearson Smith (immigrated to the U.S. from Norwalk, Connecticut) is a “a strong supporter of the Boycott [Israel], Divestment and Sanctions movement”. Now that he is stuffed with Nobel cash, let’s see if he will give up his house to the Native American tribe from which the land was stolen!

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H-1B program means that MIT graduates aren’t special anymore?

I got the cold shoulder from a couple of aviation companies when I invited them to come speak and demo in our three-day FAA Ground School class at M.I.T.  Maybe it is Boston’s typically miserable January weather that is putting them off, but I wonder if the main reason for the lack of interest is the ease of recruiting skilled foreigners via the H-1B visa program (created in 1990).

In the 1980s, companies that needed nerds would flock in-person to MIT, a rich source of a scarce resource. Companies would organize presentations about what they did and why it was interesting and then invite audience members to apply for jobs. Certainly it was unusual for a company to turn down an invite to show up and get in front of 70 young folks studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Aeronautical Engineering.

Readers: What do you think? Is on-campus recruiting suffering in the H-1B age?

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What it takes to welcome refugees and other immigrants

Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows identifies the presence of refugees and immigrants as a sign of an American town’s success. What’s the price of success?

When the Sioux Falls public schools opened their doors in 2013, the biggest single group of these students, about one-third of the total (according to school district figures), were the 700 Spanish speakers, many of whom arrived in migrant worker families. As for the other two-thirds, when we visited, there were 259 Nepali speakers, 135 who spoke Arabic, 129 Swahili, 101 Somali, 93 Amharic, 84 Tigrinya (a Semitic language from the Horn of Africa), and 77 French. A very long tail of other languages included many I’ve never heard of, and I have been studying languages and linguistics all my life. Mai Mai had 27 speakers in the city, Nuer had 7, and then there were Grebo, Lingala—the list goes on.

The school programs start in the classroom and extend to tutoring, summer school, free lunches, and bus passes. They also look to whole-family success. Home-to-school liaisons do things like help schedule parent-teacher conferences and round up translators. Sometimes, translation involves the children’s game of telephone, where speakers pass on a message from one language to the next and the next, and then back again. Such details are fundamental to keeping the entire system working.

Where do you start acculturation with the ocean-deep discrepancies among the children? In refugee-rich Burlington, Vermont, one school’s population includes the daughter of the principal and a little boy whose life experience is so raw that he pees in the corner of the classroom because he can’t imagine a toilet in a restroom.

Although the authors are unreservedly positive about the benefits that low-skill immigration bring to Americans, the facts that they relate do not seem to support this perspective. Many of the “immigrant-rich” or “children-of-immigrant-rich” cities that they write about are remarkable for their poverty and lack of economic growth. For example:

The city’s population had long been more “majority minority” than the entire state’s—San Bernardino is now about 60 percent Hispanic, versus about 40 percent for California—and significantly poorer. The median household income in the city is under $40,000, versus over $60,000 for the state and over $50,000 for the country. San Bernardino is the poorest city of more than village size in California. When things went wrong for the country as a whole in 2008, they went worse for San Bernardino. Because its population was so poor to begin with and had lost so many previous sources of income, the debt levels on its real estate shot up during the subprime bubble of the mid-2000s and then home values fell extra hard, making the city one of the foreclosure centers of the country. Its unemployment rate neared 20 percent at the worst, and even as it improved it remained nearly twice the national level. In 2014, a WalletHub ranking put it dead last on a ranking of job prospects in 150 metro areas.

“We have one of the poorest communities in the nation, fifty-four percent of the population on some kind of public assistance. And our public school system is requiring that our taxpayers further invest dollars that they don’t have, for students just to barely get an entrance requirement for community college. That’s tragic. I couldn’t take that anymore. You’ve got to fix it.”

(The chapter on San Bernardino does not mention its most famous immigrant, Tashfeen Malik, or  child of immigrant, Rizwan Farook, or the most famous recent event in San Bernardino, i.e., the 2015 shooting.)

Don’t feel bad for everyone in San Bernardino, though: “This city with a per capita income of $35,000 ended up paying its public safety workers total compensation of about $160,000 apiece, or about $40,000 more than the statewide average.”

Allentown, Pennsylvania is described as having gone from mostly white to “more than 40 percent Latino” and simultaneously to “a bombed-out-looking, high-crime shell of what had been until the 1980s an architecturally attractive and commercially successful downtown area.” Ultimately the city is restored to some extent with huge tax breaks that have drawn in development dollars and projects from other cities and towns in Pennsylvania. The FBI got interested in why certain developers happened to be favored in this public-private partnership and six local officials pled guilty to corruption. In October 2018, the mayor was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

How dramatic has the change in American demography been?

The history of the student population is very different from that of the staff. Since the late 1980s, the demographic composition of Dodge City’s [Kansas] students has dramatically changed. According to one estimate we heard from city officials, the Hispanic population in grades K–12 would have been about 20 percent in the 1980s, and is nearly 80 percent today. First Mexicans, then waves of others from Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Dodge City is, in effect, a “port of entry,” says Robert Vinton, the director of the Dodge City Migrant Education program, even though it is nearly seven hundred miles north of the border. The high school is about 70 percent Hispanic, with another 7 percent designated as “other,” which includes African and Asian immigrant populations; the rest are Anglo. In the high school, 36 percent of students are English-language learners.

Each August, some twenty or thirty new immigrant students are likely to show up. They continue to dribble in through May. The latest wave came from Guatemala, many of whom—even at the high school level—were entering a classroom for the first time and were illiterate. At home, conditions are often poor, and many families arrive with a rough history.

Among the social services I saw: counseling for students who are pregnant, who are already moms, who have incarcerated parents;

More than 50 percent of the students (not all of them migrants) in the DCPS are enrolled in well-established English-Language Learner (ELL) programs. The recently arrived Guatemalans have brought a new linguistic twist. While Guatemala is officially a Spanish-speaking country, roughly twenty-four indigenous languages are spoken there as well. For some who arrive in Dodge City, an indigenous language is their sole language. This forces the same kind of telephone-game translation system I saw applied in Sioux Falls, where a series of interpreters hot-potato a conversation from English to two or three other languages and back again.

In Dodge City, there are some illiterate teenage children arriving who “don’t know how to hold a pencil,” Vinton told me.

Deborah Fallows rides with “Sister Roserita Weber and Sister Janice Thome, nuns of the Dominican Order of Peace” as they serve the immigrants and children of immigrants in Dodge City, Kansas. There are “single moms” with up to six children. There are women trying to get Green Cards based on having been domestic violence victims (see “Au pair to green card” for how this works when done right). There is a family that needs a free ride from “a school’s summer free-lunch program to their trailer.”

Sometimes it seems that immigrants themselves are a resource to be mined by an otherwise failing town. The Rust Belt’s Rust Belt town of Erie, Pennsylvania, for example, is now 10 percent refugee:

I went to visit the starting point for Erie’s continuing flow of new arrivals: the field office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). It was already beginning to bustle before 9:00 a.m. on a hot August morning. A woman wearing a bright African cloth wrapped at the waist, with two little children beside her, was sitting on the concrete step in front of the building, waiting for something or someone. Clusters of others, mostly talking quietly in Arabic, were waiting inside in the stuffy reception area. A few of the staffers behind the reception windows were greeting everyone who came in. Along the narrow halls, there were day-care rooms, and there was a play area outside. Beyond some parked strollers and water dispensers, a language lesson was in progress; the instructor was juggling a meld of English grammar and culture for a dozen or more men and women seated at long tables.

Part of that summer bulge was the Zkrit family, who arrived in Erie early in June. In 2012, Mohammad Zkrit was living in Aleppo, Syria, with his young wife, Yasmine, and their two small daughters, and was working in a fabric factory. Then one day, his neighborhood was bombed by the forces of Bashar al-Assad. His house was destroyed, and he was injured.

After three years in Jordan, they were offered the chance to resettle in the United States. Zkrit, thirty-six, and his wife, twenty-six, and their growing family of four young children boarded a plane in Amman bound for Chicago and, ultimately, Erie.

The Fallowses visited in 2016, which means that Mr. Zkrit had been in the U.S. for about one year. How was a guy with experience in “a fabric factory” going to fare in the labor market of a state with no fabric factories? It turned out that he was unemployed, unable to command even the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Also, he did not speak English. Through an interpreter, however, he told the authors how happy he was in Erie and the U.S.: “America is my dream country.”

[Mr. Zkrit, with his lack of English, is not the most challenging refugee in Erie from a job placement perspective. The authors also write about “at least twenty-four deaf refugees from Nepal who live in Erie now.”]

How can a town survive with 10 percent of its population being unskilled unemployed refugees with four kids each? I wonder if the answer is harvesting federal subsidies. Our poorest cities often have sparkling new hospitals, built by mining elderly citizens for Medicare dollars. Could it be that Erie is mining refugees for the Federal Welfare that attaches to them? Each refugee is entitled to housing, health care, and food, all of which will be funded nationally, but purchased in the local economy.

The authors are negative on Donald Trump and imply that anyone who votes for him would be doing so out of “resentment,” “fear,” or “grievance.” They’re especially dismayed by Trump’s opposition to low-skill immigration. Yet their book shows that only a crazy rich country could possibly afford to run both low-skill immigration and a comprehensive welfare state.

More: Read Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

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Why does the U.S. accept refugees from Bhutan?

I’ve recently finished Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James and Deborah Fallows. James is a Cirrus pilot and the couple traveled around via light airplane so I thought that there would be some interesting material for pilots (presumably reflecting the general public’s lack of interest in the details of flying, not too much ink is spilled on the subject of flying per se).

The authors describe a country where nearly every corner is packed with immigrants of all types, including asylum-seekers and refugees:

Like Sioux Falls, Burlington[, Vermont] has been a resettlement city for refugees for decades. It, too, has refugees from all over the world, and it, too, has embraced the sense of becoming a richer, better city for having them. During our first days in Burlington, I sat in on a workshop at the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP) in Burlington, where nearly twenty very newly arrived Bhutanese were learning the cultural ropes for their new jobs. Get to work on time. Check bus schedules on holidays. Call your boss if you are sick. Be friendly to your colleagues. Smile. Sit with workmates at lunch, even if language is a barrier. Wear deodorant and clean clothes every day.

The authors are enthusiastic about the potential of a planned economy (“public-private partnerhip”), especially when applied to the challenge of bringing in low-skill immigrants:

Miro Weinberger, mayor at the time we visited, is himself an example of Burlington’s draw for its particular kind of human capital. Weinberger’s parents, from Long Island, moved north during the Vietnam War “to opt out and find a different value system,” Weinberger told us. He is one of many forty-something children of that migration who stayed in Vermont. “You’ll hear a lot about public-private partnerships,” he told us on our first visit. “This is a place where it’s really true.” In Vermont, these efforts—to teach nutrition and sustainability courses in the schools, to find work for some of the Burmese and Bhutanese refugees being resettled in the area, to foster tech start-ups—are often called “social responsibility” efforts, a part of the brand we came to think of as being classically Burlington.

What is hard to understand is why people from Bhutan qualify as refugees. (Or at least did in 2013 when the authors visited.)

The U.S. Department of State says that Bhutan is as safe as anywhere on Planet Earth (travel page). Lonely Planet says “Bhutan is a remarkably safe destination, almost completely devoid of the scams, begging and theft that affects its neighbours.”

The described Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program is part of a larger organization that is funded about 90 percent by tax dollars. The public housing, Medicaid, food stamps, and Obamaphones consumed by the Bhutanese in Burlington are funded by tax dollars. Why are taxpayers funding refugees from a country that they would otherwise be dreaming of being wealthy enough to visit (Bhutan charges a minimum of $200-250 per tourist per day, depending on the season, plus airfare from the U.S. isn’t cheap!).

[If the public-private partnership yields the Bhutanese only a low-wage job or if demand for workers who don’t speak English proves weak, the folks described will be lifetime dependents on U.S. taxpayer-funded welfare (means-tested public housing, Medicaid, and food stamps, for example).]

Maybe there is an argument for filling the U.S. with immigrants from Bhutan, but why are they “refugees”?

Readers: Are there other luxury tourist destinations from which a person can come to the U.S. as a “refugee”?

Related:

  • “In Bhutan, Happiness Index as Gauge for Social Ills” (nytimes): “In 2015, his staff members released a study that showed 91.2 percent of Bhutanese reporting that they were narrowly, extensively or deeply happy, with a 1.8 percent increase in aggregate happiness between 2010 and 2015.”
  • “Vermont job creation lagging nation’s by considerable margin” (Burlington Free Press, October 31, 2018): “Unlike in Vermont, the U.S. economy has been adding jobs at a very respectable rate. To show how far Vermont is lagging the nation, consider that Vermont now has the same number of jobs it had in early 2015.” (not too many employers required fluency in Dzongkha, as it happened?)
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Migrant caravan members from Honduras are required to apply for asylum in Guatemala or Mexico?

A caravan of 7,000 Hondurans (“The Committee to Re-elect the President”?) are making their way through Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. The good news is that they are entitled to free housing, free food, free health care, and a free smartphone as soon as they arrive (“The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals” — Article 23 of the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees).

However, there seems to be a dispute about whether these 7,000 folks are restricted in terms of where they can apply for asylum. From “President Trump Threatened to Turn Back Caravan Migrants If They Don’t Claim Asylum in Mexico. That’s Not Legal” (TIME):

President Donald Trump has said the Central American migrants traveling via caravan should seek asylum in Mexico – and threatened that they will be turned away if they reach the U.S. border.

“People have to apply for asylum in Mexico first, and if they fail to do that, the U.S. will turn them away. The courts are asking the U.S. to do things that are not doable!” he tweeted Sunday.

But following through on that threat could violate international law, experts say.

As a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Mexico is obligated to protect people who are outside of their country and afraid to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social or political group.

The United States is also a signatory. And while Mexico is required to offer protection for refugees under international law, migrants have no obligation to request it there.

Under U.S. immigration law, the the United States can deny asylum if a person can be returned to a country where their life or freedom is not in danger, but only if the U.S. has entered into a bilateral or multilateral agreement that codifies the arrangement.

The U.S. and Canada have such an agreement. It says that people must seek refugee status in the first country they arrive in—either the U.S. or Canada—but there are some exceptions for cases of family reunification.

No such agreement exists with Mexico.

Additionally, some argue that Mexico would not meet the standards for such a designation. For one, given high rates of crime, there are credible safety concerns.

(In other words, the country in which Americans are willing to pay $1,000 per day to vacation is intolerably dangerous for a Honduran native speaker of Spanish.)

In Europe, it seems that “the country where an asylum seeker first enters the union is responsible for registering the asylum application and taking fingerprints.” (see “Explaining the Rules for Migrants: Borders and Asylum,” nytimes, 9/16/2015) But the U.S. is not part of this “Dublin Regulation,” so perhaps the last paragraph of the TIME article is definitive:

“If people who are fleeing persecution and violence enter Mexico they need to be provided access to the Mexican asylum system, and those entering the United States need to be provided access to the American asylum system,” says Chris McGrath, a UNHCR spokesperson.

Suppose that the TIME article and the UN bureaucrats are right and a caravan of 7,000 Hondurans can transition through Mexcio to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, wouldn’t it work equally well for all of the migrants currently in the EU? There are millions of refugees in Germany. They are the majority of the welfare recipients in Germany (Wikipedia: “In April 2018 more than half, at 55%, of the recipients had a migration background. According to the Federal Employment Agency this was due to the migrants lacking either employable skills or knowledge of the language”). Instead of paying out Hartz IV benefits every month to a refugee, why not offer him or her a one-way plane ticket to a Mexico border town? Maybe the U.S. will deny the refugee’s application for asylum after 2 or 3 years, but during all of that time, the German taxpayer is relieved of the responsibility for paying Hartz IV. The refugee will be way better off as well because (a) no need to learn German, and (b) the American welfare system provides for a much higher standard of living than the German Hartz IV welfare system.

We’re told that the Europeans don’t love us anymore because Trump. What is stopping them from wishing bon voyage to Airbus A380s full of welfare-collecting refugees enthusiastic about living the American Dream in California or Texas via Mexico?

Alternatively, is it possible that Trump is right? Is there a rule that prevents a refugee from traveling to a lot of intermediate countries before settling down in the place that offers the most generous “public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals”?

Related:

 

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Ukelele lessons for Angolans and Congolese

“Strummers in the city: Ukulele program gives Portland immigrant students head start” (The Forecaster):

PORTLAND [Maine] — Two dozen students filed into a classroom at Portland High School Monday for a ukulele lesson, strumming with determined fingers as part of a program to help them acclimate to the coming school year after emigrating to the city.

The students are housed at the city’s shelter for homeless families and are participating in a five-week-long Portland Public Schools’ summer program designed to give them a head start on school success and connect their families to school and city resources.

The theme this year, its second, is “Summer in the City.”

Most students are from Angola and the Republic of Congo, and communicate through interpreters during their time in the program.

Customers at Tony’s Donuts thought that ukulele skills would be useful: “They’re probably going to be on welfare for their entire lives so they need something to keep busy.”

 

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