Have you ever heard a politician admit that they support affirmative action for immigrants, legal or illegal? Even the most zealous open borders advocates like U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez would rather not talk about this thorny issue. But every once in a while we are reminded of the fact that immigrants can and do benefit from affirmative action programs in areas such as employment, college admissions, and government contracting.
A front page story in Tuesday's Washington Post which tells the immigrant success story of Anita Talwar, an Indian immigrant who became very wealthy after founding a company which "shrewdly took advantage of programs for minority-owned small businesses and rode a boom in federal contracting," is just such a reminder that in some arenas, immigrants actually have an advantage over most Americans.
A recent story in The New York Times on affirmative action and college admissions highlighted the absurd trend of students scrambling to mine their family trees for ancestors that might help them get into the college of their choice. One mother, posting on a college admission site, "wanted to know if her children's French great-grandfather, born in Algeria, would qualify her family as African-American." The consensus was no, but the sentiment -- though fanciful – illustrates how eager people are to find some sort of advantage.
But the notion that immigrants could step off a plane and immediately qualify for preferences that were created primarily to redress past discrimination against members of minority groups is deeply unsettling, particularly in a time of high unemployment, shrinking government spending, and cutthroat competition for entrance to elite colleges and universities.
To lump high-achieving Asian immigrants like Ms. Talwar – who often have higher household incomes and educational achievement than native-born Americans – together with the descendants of slaves and Native Americans into one stew of marginalized citizens only serves to undercut the legitimacy of the entire venture of affirmative action.
Certainly Asians have suffered from discrimination in this country – the internment of Japanese Americans during WW2, for example, stands out as one of the most shameful episodes in recent American history. The whole exercise of trying to rank and categorize which groups have suffered the most is unseemly. But in the debate over what do about America's huge population of illegal immigrants, discussion of the affirmative action issue is nearly always absent.
An amnesty wouldn't just allow non-European illegal immigrants a chance to compete for jobs, government contracts, and places at universities, among other things, on a level playing field. In some cases, it would actually propel them into a decided advantage over white, and in some cases Asian, applicants. (Many affirmative action programs, including admission to universities, provide no preferences to Asians)
Immigrants come to the United States by choice. Providing them with gift-wrapped preferences upon arrival for historic injustices they weren't here to experience is a farce. Clever, industrious migrants like Ms. Talwar are bound to succeed, with or without preferential treatment. So let's let them do it on their own.
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