Offering U.S. citizenship to those who prove they cannot live without taxpayer assistance

I learned recently that transitioning from Green Card to U.S. citizenship requires paying a $725 fee. However, the fee can be waived if the new American can prove that this would be a hardship to pay, e.g., because the Green Card holder is receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, such as public housing, food stamps, etc. In other words, our government has an official policy of granting citizenship to working-age people who prove that they (a) receive means-tested benefits (“are on welfare”), and (b) can’t scratch up $725.

How does it work in practice? The case I learned about involves a family that won a Green Card via lottery five years ago. After arriving in the U.S., they were entitled to means-tested prices for essentials, i.e., taxpayer-funded housing, taxpayer-funded health care, taxpayer-funded food (SNAP or “food stamps”), etc. On realizing that there was no social stigma to being a divorced woman in the U.S., the wife divorced the husband, explaining that she had never wanted to be married, but had only done it because it was expected in her birth culture. Neither of the parents earned much money so there wasn’t significant divorce litigation. As children don’t yield significant cash compared to public assistance, she and the father were able to agree to a 50/50 schedule. The result for U.S. taxpayers was there were now two households eligible for government-provided housing, health insurance, food stamps, and smartphones. And soon those will be two citizen-led households…

[Note: the typical American newspaper would not describe someone living in a taxpayer funded house, receiving taxpayer-funded health insurance, eating taxpayer-funded food, and calling friends on a taxpayer-funded smartphone to be “on welfare” because the foregoing are all non-cash benefits.]

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Ireland and immigration

The same question of “How do you run a welfare state with open borders?” that Milton Friedman answered with “You can’t” remains a live one in Ireland: “The Irish are losing control of Ireland once again?” is a video that an Irish friend sent me. Gemma O’Doherty, towards the end, asks what the point was of fighting the British colonizers if Ireland ultimately will be primarily occupied by non-Irish. She also points out that one third of “social housing” in Ireland is currently occupied by non-Irish. (Not sure how this can be true since, as in America, there is a long waiting list for a free house (yet folks say that free housing is a basic human right! But if it is actually a right, why is there a waiting list? If it is not a right, why do some people get a free house?)).

Ireland is far more hostile to immigrants and asylum-seekers than the U.S. Voters eliminated birthright citizenship in 2004 with a constitutional amendment. Asylum-seekers are dumped into cramped apartments, forbidden to work, and forgotten about (except by Amnesty International, which criticizes Ireland for this). The Irish with whom I spoke thought this was brutal, but effective. “Nobody is coming here to claim asylum anymore.”

During a May/June trip to Ireland, employers and developers of rental property were the most positive regarding the merits of immigration, praising the work ethic of Eastern Europeans, for example, and noting which neighborhoods in Dublin were now primarily occupied by (rent-paying) Pakistanis.

Folks who were not able to make money as a result of immigration and population growth were less sanguine. They missed the cohesion of a society in which they could find common ground for a conversation with anyone anywhere in the country. A retired police officer sounded unhappy that pedestrian streets now had to be protected from vehicular mass murder, a requirement that he attributed to the decision to allow Muslims to emigrate to Ireland.

The places in Ireland where an immigrant might settle, i.e., the cities with jobs, are jam-packed already. Traffic in Dublin and on the surrounding highways slows to a crawl in mid-afternoon. Commuter trains are standing-room-only during weekday morning and evenings. There is no realistic Chinese-style plan to add a subway system. Here’s the situation close to 9:00 am on a weekday, when people should already be at work:

Housing is not affordable for median-income earners (see “Dublin’s Housing Crisis Reaches a Boiling Point”: “The city’s average rent as of March was up to €1,875 ($2,176) a month. This is a large amount for anyone on the Irish average monthly wage of €3,181 ($3,692) and completely impossible for anyone paid anything close to the minimum hourly wage of €9.25 ($10.74).”) As in the U.S., the government engages in every possible scheme to fight the result of Econ 101 supply and demand curves. Developers of new buildings have to give apartments to central planners for them to allocate. Housing bureaucrats conceive grand plans for “social housing,” never imagining that demand for guaranteed free housing could outstrip supply (as in the U.S., the best way to get hold of a “social housing” unit is to have a child and refrain from working).

It is unclear what it would mean to apply a fashionable American politician’s open borders policy to Ireland. The country is home to roughly 5 million people. If 1 out of every 1,000 people currently living somewhere else decided that it would be nice to move to Ireland, that would be 7.6 million immigrants (from a baseline of 7.6 billion) and the country would no longer be “Irish”.

The debate is pretty much the same as in the U.S., but with all of the numbers scaled down. People who want to exclude 98 percent of would-be migrants claim the moral high ground by contrast with those who want to exclude 99 percent. Nobody who expresses love and concern for migrants actually wants to allow everyone in, much less shelter any of them in his or her own home. The country’s welfare state offers citizens the ability to refrain from work for an entire lifetime and, indeed, for multiple generations. People don’t want immigrants to come in and use the system as designed, but they have signed high-toned international agreements promising not to discriminate when ladling out the welfare.


  • “Migration in Ireland a huge issue but what we need’s a solution” (IrishCentral), concluding with “As the taoiseach said, the ultimate answer lies in improving the countries migrants are coming from, whether that’s in Africa or South America.” (i.e., Ireland now has to figure out how to make Africa and South America prosperous on a per-capita basis!)
  • “Huge scale of immigration is making our housing crisis worse” (Irish Independent)
  • “In Ireland, Bid to Restore Birthright Citizenship Gains Ground” (nytimes): “The government’s opposition is based on the special relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland, said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Equality, which has responsibility for immigration matters. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its people are legally entitled to both British and Irish citizenship. The Irish government fears that people living illegally in Britain could move to Northern Ireland, give birth to a child there and obtain Irish citizenship for their child after living there for three years. The parents could then use the child’s citizenship to obtain residency anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom which, though separate countries, confer extensive mutual residency and travel rights on each other’s citizens.”
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Why do Americans care if migrant children are housed in a poor environment?

“Government Watchdog Finds Squalid Conditions in Border Centers” (nytimes) and similar are upsetting to quite a few Americans (at least my friends on Facebook are constantly expressing their anguish on this subject).

It might seem obvious why they’re upset. Nobody wants to see children living in a bad environment.

But is it obvious?

Federal and state governments provide housing for millions of children who are not migrants. Some of this is directly operated public housing. Some is the Feds giving Section 8 vouchers so that people who don’t work can live in what might turn out to be some crummy neighborhoods.

The result is American-born children living in, for example, the “Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America”. See also this article on crime in New York City’s public housing.

The terrible environment for American-born children housed by the Federal government has persisted for decades without any serious objections from voters (who keep returning the same politicians to office to continue the same policies!). Now the Feds are providing a terrible environment for non-American children and it is a crisis that people say they’re motivated to address (as long as they don’t have to house any migrants in their own homes!).

One could argue that the children in dangerous crumbling taxpayer-funded (and sometimes government-run) housing are free to walk out at any time, unlike at the migrant concentration camps. A child who lives in a gang-plagued project is as free as Bill Gates to check into a 5-star hotel on the other side of town. Yet the practical value of that freedom seems to be limited, as evidenced by the fact that many families have stayed in these projects for multiple generations.

Why the interest in migrant children and the lack of interest in American children for whom the government provides housing?

Separately, have we reached a high water mark for the discrepancy between expressed concern and practical action? There are only about 10 million people in Honduras. If they could deposit the expressed goodwill of Americans who say that they want to help migrants, every Honduran could live in luxury and ease. Imagine if everyone who posted on Facebook against the Trumpenfuhrer’s concentration camps sent a check to a Honduran. Why, at that point, would any Honduran be motivated to make the trek to the U.S. border?

I poked around a bit among the Facebook virtuous say-gooders.

  • Say-gooder 1: The conditions are horrible there … Policy is political- but the treatment of these humans by US is disgusting. We are not that. Dignity is precious.
  • Me: “Revealed preference” as the economists say. Dignity for Hondurans is not, in fact, as precious to the average American as a new car for him/herself. That’s why the money is spent on a new car instead of being sent to help the Honduran enjoy a comfortable life south of the border.
  • Me: If you would like to spend your own money to rent an apartment in Mexico for migrants so that they don’t have to risk the border crossing and internment in a concentration camp, I will be happy to match your spending dollar for dollar.
  • Say-gooder 1: You have to be that pedantic? How horrible these conditions are to humans, people are being treated -families separated, conditions undignified. I pay taxes, btw. Treat other people, even refugees, with dignity. Why not? The political allocation of funds (or profiteering) is different than the basic humanitarian treatment of other humans. Call your congressperson or run for Congress.

  • Me: [people in Santa Monica who say that they want to help migrants and also make housing more affordable should turn their soon-to-be-vacant 227-acre airport into 40,000 units of housing instead of a park for existing wealthy/housed residents. This to chip away at the 568,000-unit shortfall of affordable homes in Los Angeles]
  • LA-based say-gooder: … I don’t think 40,000 is a correct number in any scenario, because that’s a hugely disproportionate ask of Santa Monica vs. the homeless population in the entire region as a whole. If you want to make such demands, at least demand it of everyone (including L.A. which by territory is the largest city and also has land available), not just Santa Monica.
  • Me: Why is it an ASK for Santa Monica? If immigration into the U.S. makes our country better, why wouldn’t immigration into Santa Monica make Santa Monica better?
  • LA-based say-gooder: Is there a reason you singling out Santa Monica specifically?
  • Me: Of all of the cities in the U.S., Santa Monica is the only one that I know of that is planning to shut down its city-owned airport. So it is the only city that is about to free up a huge vacant lot. AND it happens to be in Greater LA, where there is a shortfall of affordable housing. AND folks there say that they are passionate about helping those with low incomes. So it their words are sincere, it is odd that they are passing up what seems like an obvious opportunity to align their deeds with their words.
  • LA-based say-gooder: [Santa Monica shouldn’t have to do this. It is burdensome. Immigration, even from other parts of LA or the U.S., will make Santa Monica worse off.]
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MIT Chemistry Discovery: Immigration is Oxygen

From MIT President Rafael Reif, “Letter to the MIT community: Immigration is a kind of oxygen”:

For those of us who know firsthand the immense value of MIT’s global community and of the free flow of scientific ideas, it is important to understand the distress of these colleagues as part of an increasingly loud signal the US is sending to the world.

Protracted visa delays. Harsh rhetoric against most immigrants and a range of other groups, because of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. Together, such actions and policies have turned the volume all the way up on the message that the US is closing the door – that we no longer seek to be a magnet for the world’s most driven and creative individuals.

What kind of folks are currently streaming over the border and claiming asylum? Brilliant architects and future Ph.D. electrical engineers:

In May, the world lost a brilliant creative force: architect I.M. Pei, MIT Class of 1940. Raised in Shanghai and Hong Kong, he came to the United States at 17 to seek an education. He left a legacy of iconic buildings from Boston to Paris and China to Washington, DC, as well on our own campus. By his own account, he consciously stayed alive to his Chinese roots all his life. Yet, when he died at the age of 102, the Boston Globe described him as “the most prominent American architect of his generation.”

Thanks to the inspired American system that also made room for me as an immigrant, all of those facts can be true at the same time.

And now for the chemistry lesson…

In a nation like ours, immigration is a kind of oxygen, each fresh wave reenergizing the body as a whole. As a society, when we offer immigrants the gift of opportunity, we receive in return vital fuel for our shared future. I trust that this wisdom will always guide us in the life and work of MIT.

Apparently oxygen is no longer a source of corrosion, fires, and toxicity!

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Should Trump offer migrant children to those decrying the concentration camp system?

My Facebook feed is alive with the righteous condemning the U.S. government’s parking migrant “children” (some could be 25-30 years old as long as they say that they are under 18?) in concentration camps.

Would it make sense for the Federales to track down these folks and offer them the opportunity to host one or more migrant children in their own house?

In my experience, the offer of an actual migrant is typically refused by those who say that they welcome migrants. Here’s a recent interaction with a guy on Facebook who has a house large enough to share:

  • Him: Refugees need help now, not later. The basics. These are among the most vulnerable people in the world. I come from a family of refugees, and for my birthday let’s make their lives a little easier. [Fundraising link to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the tax dollar-funded organization that enraged the guy who shot up the Pittsburgh synagogue (filled with Jews who may have disagreed with the current HIAS mission of bringing non-Jewish low-skill immigrants to the U.S.)]
  • Me: If you want to shelter a refugee family in your house for at least one year, and pay for their food and health care (so US taxpayers don’t have to), I will be happy to fund their airfare from Kabul, Beirut, or wherever else in the world you find these new Americans.
  • Him: this is a private charity [yet it is primarily taxpayer-funded!], not a political position. Donate or don’t. There is an abrasive black and white false dichotomy that you propose: Either take personal responsibility for an entire family of refugees or you’re a hypocrite. Bullshit! There are limits to what I am willing to do to help others, including refugees. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with doing something, even modest, to help the cause.
  • Me: Would you be willing to take one refugee for a year in your home? Masshealth will sell a comprehensive health insurance policy for $3/month if your refugee doesn’t work and I think he or she would also be entitled to food stamps. Remember that any refugee who is not sheltered in an existing house will be exacerbating what is already considered a critical shortage of affordable housing (caused by Trump, says HuffPost).
  • Him: I don’t think you understood my point at all. Is there any amount of money you personally would part with to help out a refugee?
  • Me: Yes! My standard offer is to fund airfare from Kabul, Beirut, or wherever else. So that’s about $2,000 per refugee. I also offered to pay $50,000 to charter a plane to take a caravan of refugees from Mexico to Canada (whose Prime Minister offered to take anyone rejected by the U.S.).

Readers: What do you think? Would the folks complaining about migrants being subject to crummy room and board be silenced if they were offered migrants to host?


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Mexican democracy worse than Trump dictatorship

“How Trump’s Tariff Threat Could Outsource the Asylum Crisis to Mexico” (New Yorker) is kind of interesting. During Donald Trump’s election campaign and for the first year or two of his administration, nothing regarding immigration could fairly be described as a “crisis.” Yet now that Trump has been in office for a while, there is actually a “crisis.”

We are told by our media that the U.S. under Dictator Trump is one of the most oppressive environments ever created on Planet Earth. Refugees are separated from children, interned in concentration camps, sexually assaulted, and sometimes killed.

What could be worse than that? Day to day life within the area governed by our southern neighbor, the democracy of Mexico!

In theory, if not always in practice, the migrants returned under Remain in Mexico will have a chance to petition for asylum in the U.S. But, by the definition of a safe third-country agreement, asylum seekers travelling through Mexico would no longer be allowed to make their case to American authorities. By default, Mexico would become their final destination. Such a scenario would be highly controversial for legal and humanitarian reasons. For one thing, such an agreement is premised on the assumption that Mexico is a “safe” country in which migrants can seek asylum, even though the country has a well-documented history of mistreating migrants in its custody and of unlawfully turning them around at its southern border.

Doesn’t this sound like prejudice?


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Climate change has made Guatemala unlivable…

… which is why 20 times as many people now live there compared to 1900 when the Earth hadn’t been trashed (estimated 17.5 million today versus 885,000 before CO2 poisoned everything).

A 1960s-style famine article from the New York Times: “‘Food Doesn’t Grow Here Anymore. That’s Why I Would Send My Son North.’ A stark choice for some Guatemalans: watch crops wither, and maybe die with them, or migrate”:

I have heard from innumerable Guatemalans that the most fundamental driver of emigration is desperation — and, to an extent that most Americans don’t appreciate, this desperation often reflects drought and severe weather linked to climate change. … climate change is aggravating the desperation.

So the paradox is that American carbon emissions are partly responsible for wretchedness in Guatemala that drives emigration, yet when those desperate Guatemalans arrive at the U.S. border they are treated as invaders.

Get ready to welcome your new neighbors:

“The great majority of these kids will migrate,” Luis Armando Jiménez, principal of a rural middle school, told me as he pointed to his students in the courtyard. “There is not enough rain, so their only option is to migrate.”

The author who says that humans cannot thrive in Guatemala, Nicholas Kristof, was born in 1959. Wikipedia says that that the number of humans living in this unlivable country has more than tripled since then.

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Why aren’t we paying the Mexicans to patrol our border?

“Mexican armed forces meets migrants at southern border” (NBC) is subtitled “The tougher response follows the Trump administration’s threats to impose stiff tariffs if Mexico didn’t do more to curb migration through Mexico to the U.S.”

This strikes me as unfair. Mexicans didn’t create our cradle-to-grave welfare state, birthright citizenship law, or policies for welcoming anyone willing to spin a tale that will qualify for asylum. Why is the Mexican taxpayer’s job to stand in the breeze created by the American offer of free housing, free health care, free food, and free smartphone to anyone who is sufficiently fit to travel across the border?

I wrote about this in a post about a book by a former Border Patrol agent:

As a taxpayer, I was horrified to read about the money being spent. The cost of border patrol agents, including pension and benefits, is staggering. Helicopters are flying constantly, notably for medical evacuation of dehydrated migrants found by these highly paid border patrol agents. These aren’t $350/hour Robinsons, but $1,500/hour Eurocopters (which become $4,000/hour Eurocopters when federally operated; 40,000 aircraft hours per year in 2014!). I wonder if we could simply pay the Mexicans to patrol the border. If we offered them $10 billion per year and then subtracted the cost of lifetime welfare (about $2 million?) for every unauthorized person who slipped through, I have to believe that they would be a lot more efficient and effective. It would also cut down on gun fights between U.S. agents and bad guys, which have killed 123 officers since 1904. The author of the book makes the job sound incredibly dangerous and spends quite a few pages recounting his vivid dreams. The Marines on Iwo Jima faced only token resistance by comparison. The author never explains why Border Patrol agents are able to purchase life insurance at a lower cost than other federal employees from an independent nonprofit association. Either the underwriters are pinheads or carrying a gun for the Border Patrol is actually less hazardous than sitting at a desk in a D.C. bureaucracy.

Readers: What do you think? The Mexicans aren’t the ones running a welfare state that is a magnet for folks from around the planet. Is it reasonable that they have to pay the costs of keeping welfare-seekers away from the borders that we can’t be bothered to fence?

[Note: I recognize that Americans will differ in whether an immigrant or descendant of immigrants is “on welfare” if the person (a) has a low-to-medium wage job, and (b) receives taxpayer-subsidized housing, health care, etc.]

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