National origins discrimination makes its way into Senate immigration bill

Apparently the Senate immigration bill has become a veritable Christmas tree with lobbying groups of all kinds tacking on "ornaments" that will favor them.  First was the Chamber of Commerce and unions, then the tech industry, and now foreign governments who have hired lobbyists and are pouring campaign contributions into the coffers of key decision makers.  There is nothing new about using financial influence and hiring lobbyists to champion your cause, but what is disturbing is the reintroduction of national origins discrimination into the Senate bill.

In 1965, the U.S. passed a watershed immigration bill that created the basic immigration framework that is still in place today.  The 1965 Act was passed very much in the spirit of the racial tolerance of the time, and was signed into legislation along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The 1965 Act did away with over a century of national origins discrimination in our immigration laws.  Prior to 1965, the U.S. granted immigration visas in large numbers to certain favorable countries (western and northern Europe), while severely limiting the visas from countries with racially or culturally "undesirable" immigrants (eastern and southern Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world).  The basis of these laws was the now thoroughly discredited pseudoscience of eugenics. 

The 1965 Act was a great stride toward racial and ethnic equality in U.S. immigration laws in which we moved to a race and ethnic neutral selection system and toward the assumption that what makes you a good immigrant is who you are as a person (ie what employment skills you have, whether you are closely related to a citizen or Green Card holder), not what your race or ethnicity is .

But then the backsliding began, and now as then, the cause the politics of buying influence.  A New York Times article by Eric Lipton on May 11 details the number of foreign governments who have hired high paid lobbyists and are also donating to the Senators in a bid to have the 844 page immigration bill include special provisions for their nationals. The reason why this tactic is being deployed by so many foreign governments, is that it has worked before.  Lipton mentions the "Morrison visas" a set number of visas designated specifically for Irish citizens that resulted from a successful lobbying attempt by the Irish Government in 1990 and is now ensconced in the absurd Diversity Visa Lottery that occurs each year. 

I have written an academic article detailing the legislative history of the Diversity Visa Lottery and showing how it resulted from pork barrel politics, with little concern for diversity.  I also argued in that article that the Diversity Visa Lottery, which selects person based on the sole criteria of their national origin, is a backsliding into the discriminatory practices of the past.  That selection criteria takes the focus off of individuals and their attributes and places the focus on why some nationalities might be more or less desirable--precisely the kind of retrograde thinking the 1965 Act tried to get us away from.

Of course all of the foreign governments seeking favorable treatment for their nationals couch it as an economic benefit to both countries.  The South Korean President, Ms. Park t is quoted in the Lipton NYT article as saying to Congress, "If the bill on visa quotas for Korean professionals is passed in this Congress, both our economies will benefit, for it would help create many more jobs.” Well sure, but isn't that also true for any country out there who can afford (and I do literally mean afford) such favorable treatment in the immigration bill?  Are South Korean workers somehow superior to workers with the same skills from other countries?

What is being lost in this latest round of foreign lobbying is that the U.S. has operated on a national orgins NEUTRAL system since 1965  in which we select persons for immigration based on their job skills or relations to citizens or Green Card holders.  The economic arguments offered by these foreign governments are flimsy coverups for garden variety pork barrel politics.