“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883
It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment. My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo. I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night. (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)
I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled 9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies. I highlighted point #3. (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans. If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)
3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015
No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.
A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus: I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of. At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list. (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.
Nearly 700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently (PDF)
U.S. tops desired destination countries (Data collected between 2007 and 2009)
I agree – how the world sees the US does matter. That’s a mixed bag, to say the least. For example, the international community views the US as the greatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd. US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is. That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly. But i digress – kind of.
Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.
The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.” There are many different reasons and circumstances. I list seven (7) below. There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread. My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.
1) Misperception Trumps Reality. You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.) Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.
2) International Students Who Emigrate. As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens. They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc. Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.
The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.
3) The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare Every year, more than 100,000 foreigners go to the US to do menial work under the auspices of the H-2 visa program. No streets paved with gold for many of these tired and poor people, just day after agonizing and gut-wrenching day of exploitation and abuse.
4) The House Slave Syndrome. “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.
How many recent immigrants fall into this category? Let’s use Vietnam as an example. If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country. That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.
5) Simple Logic. Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country. You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there. (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.) I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days. (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997. During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.) The main reason? So that his children could get a better education, which they have. Future plans? This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown. Good deal all around, I’d say.
6) Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name. Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website: The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.
Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil. If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen. Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically. My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak. (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military. Got to feed the ravenous beast!)
7) Give Me Your Wealthy. Yes, the rich are different. You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor. Cost: $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances. This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home. So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.
There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article. (What did I overlook? Point #8, anyone?) Your thoughts?
P.S.: Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.