An appeal to emotion in the argument for voting rights

This post is a break from our normal type of analysis for a more personal look at the impact of immigration and restrictions on individuals. The opinions here are not necessarily the same as those expressed by the regular blogging staff at Open Borders. However, we think personal experiences of immigration can still offer interesting perspectives to consider within the wider context of the evidence for and against open borders.

See also 18 years of immigration torment, a blog post by John Lee about the story of Atanas.

I’m an immigrant entrepreneur. For the past 12 years, I’ve been dutifully paying U.S. taxes and contributing to the American economy. I have committed no crimes, and I have never used social security benefits. Yet I still haven’t received permanent resident (“green card”) status, let alone citizenship. At the same time, the kid next door, who just turned 18 and recently got out of juvenile detention, can vote.

This is the beginning of a story told to me by a fellow entrepreneur. He came to the United States 12 years ago as a software engineer, and went through all the hoops of the system. He worked on an H-1B visa for six years, with the associated risks and downsides – inability to switch employers without losing his place in line for the green card, requirement to leave the United States or find another visa sponsor in case of losing his job at once (there no official grace period), and a permanent feeling of impermanence, of not being supposed to grow roots. Why would one purchase assets such as a house if they knew they could be forced to liquidate those assets within days?

Next, he applied for employment-based permanent resident status, a process that imposes waits from 5 to 10 to 70 years (depending on the country of citizenship – a clear case of discrimination), due to a myopic policy of limiting any country (be it China or Montenegro) to a total of 7% of an again artificially limited visa quota of 140,000 per year. Every time he returned to the U.S. from international travel, he had to be “paroled” (a process solely at the discretion of a Customs and Border Protection officer), with the occasional detention for several hours (which happens even if you have a green card).

Today, my friend is still waiting for his green card, while working on a web startup that he founded. Assuming he obtains his permanent residency status this year, it will take another five years until he is eligible to apply for citizenship. By that time, he will have been in the United States for 18 years, as long as his teenager neighbor with a police record. In the meantime though, he risks being kicked out of the country on a technicality, an occurrence far from rare, if we only consider the widely publicized cases in the media:

One of the keyhole solution alternatives to a blanket immigration ban has been preventing immigrants from voting until they become citizens, after passing a test which in its current form is notably inaccurate, and which many natives would probably flunk. In the light of the story I’ve just shared, one must consider the ethical basis for the inequity between an entrepreneur with 18 years’ worth of contributions to the welfare budget, deep familiarity by now with the social, political and economic realities of the Unites States, and a newly minted voter with likely no history of productive employment.

On what possible ethical basis are we to favor the latter?

I will leave the question above as a rhetorical device in the arsenal of open borders advocates. Hopefully it will be useful where reasoned arguments may not convince. If you interlocutor isn’t impressed by the fact that fully 19% of the 2012 Fortune 500 Companies were founded by a 1st-generation immigrant – while only 1% of the U.S. population are high-skilled immigrants – tell them the story of my Indian friend and his neighbor.

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Empiricus (pseudonym)

I am an entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley. I hope that one day I will be in a position to reveal my identity and back my opinions with my deeds.

3 thoughts on “An appeal to emotion in the argument for voting rights”

  1. After this blog entry represented itself as being about personal stories, I was surprised by the sudden topic change to voting rights. The writer refers to the “inequity between an entrepreneur with 18 years’ worth of contributions to the welfare budget, deep familiarity by now with the social, political and economic realities of the Unites States, and a newly minted voter with likely no history of productive employment.”

    The trouble there is that no voter can be presumed to have deep familiarity with the social, political and economic realities of the Unites States. The immigrant entrepreneur probably was extremely busy with his/her business, and would have difficulty remaining informed. We have little chance of assurance that an immigrant is well informed, unless we happen to know that person and have talked with him/her about a variety of public policy issues.

    I guess we could instead make a case for voting rights based on all potential voters being ignorant in various ways, and based on our seeming inability to test for competence in voting.

    The people who proposed the voting keyhole solution might not have been concerned with voters’ merits. Maybe they just don’t want masses of migrants to vote based on self-interest.

  2. “On what possible ethical basis are we to favor the latter?”

    Public policy often is not determined based on ethics, so we should not be surprised by “unethical” government rules and actions. And maybe policy should not be based on ethics. Whose ethical beliefs should prevail, anyway? We don’t all have the same ethical system.

    Morality and ethics didn’t exist in the natural world before humans, as far as I know (though people with religious beliefs might disagree). Ethics cannot be discovered by physicists. Ethics and morality are the invention of humans, adopted by indoctrination or implicitly learned from the surrounding society or occasionally chosen deliberately by individuals who think about ethics.

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