March 12, 2010

Hey, Life Just Ain't Fair - A Personal Immigration Experience

Today I read in a few different places, a quote from Matthew Yglesias from ThinkProgress, that shows his abject failure to grasp not only the fundamentals of the Constitution, but the core concepts of liberty, democracy and the greatness of his own country and it's founding fathers. The lack of understanding is truly astounding.

Doug Ross sums it up quite well here, but I'd like to focus specifically on one sentence;
Furthermore, Yglesias -- in the very same eruption of verbal excrement -- slams the Constitution itself, stating, "...US officials seem to know better than to indulge in the patriotic myth that our constitution is the greatest system of government ever devised."

Is that not enough to make you want to put a brick through your computer screen?

DISCLAIMER: For the record, I do not condone violence against computer screens, or simpletons.

So what does this all have to do with fairness? I have to ask myself why a guy like Matthew Yglesias, a citizen of the greatest country on earth, who clearly doesn't get it, and obviously wants to turn the country into something more like Greece, gets to be a United States citizen and others, who would give up a limb to be an American don't.

Back in the late 1990's I was offered a great job in Charlotte. The company that offered me the job was new at hiring outside of the United States but they were prepared to hire me if I was able to obtain a TN1 Visa. They advised me to get one prior to offering my resignation at my existing employer here in Canada. I tried at the airport but that could only be done on the date of departure. Clearly there was a little bit of risk with that approach - if I quit my job and got turned down, I would be in rough shape.

Being as new to the process as the company offering to hire me, I wasn't sure of my next steps. I called the company that hired me and was advised to drive to the border and apply there instead. They could grant TN1 Visas in advance. This is where I had my first experience with INS. I drove two hours to the border at Niagara Falls and waited in line. I knew I was in trouble when the guy in line ahead of me, who already had a TN1 and was looking for a renewal had a rough time. He had been in Atlanta for a year and had to come back to Canada for a day, to re-apply for another TN1 work Visa. The INS area manager denied him another TN1. This guy had a place in Atlanta, his furniture and clothes were all there. He had a job he wasn't completed with. Yet he got escorted to the Canadian side of the border.

I found out later that the guy who interviewed him, and would soon be interviewing me, had a reputation for being pretty harsh about letting foreigners in for TN1s. More on that later. When my turn came up, I showed the gentleman my offer letter. It was for a role as a technical analyst. I showed him my university degree, a Business Degree, not a Computer Science Degree. He didn't think my skill set matched my job offer. Never mind the fact that the company hiring me, who flew up to Toronto to interview me (and others), felt I was a good fit. He asked me what my relevant work experience was - I'd been involved in a similar role for nearly four and a half years. Apparently, lacking the relevant degree required five years of related work experience. So I got turned back as well. And I got an INS note next to my name in their database.

The company that had offered me the job, even looked into sponsoring me for a green card after that. They were willing to take the risk that hiring me with a green card made me a flight risk (a TN1 ties you to a specific job, a green card means you are a free agent as far as employment). But what they couldn't do was wait. They needed me right away and the green card took about nine months to obtain. 

I had applied for a few positions in the U.S. at that time. About a month later I got contacted by a recruiter who had a position in Denver that they thought I would be a perfect fit. I explained to him what had happened with the Charlotte offer and he asked if the guy who interviewed me was named Xxxx Xxxxxxx. It was the same guy. He told me that this guy had a reputation for being pretty inflexible and obstructive with . I didn't even bother trying for the Denver job.

Some day I will get myself a green card, perhaps if I'm lucky, a U.S. citizenship. In due course. Meanwhile Mexicans stream into the United States daily, and the President wants to grant them amnesty. But hey, life just ain't fair. I don't expect it to be. And meanwhile Matthew Yglesias thinks his constitution and the founders stink. I'm sure he'd be happy to switch places with me. I've got government health care. But hey, life just ain't fair.

No one should expect life to be fair. Illegal immigrants and Matthew Yglesias are in the United States and I'm not. Illegal immigrants might be given an easy path to citizenship but not me. I don't care. I will get in by the rules some day, because even if life is unfair, I still want to play by the rules. I do care that illegal immigrants could end up being a burden on a country that is already overburdened financially. 

About life not being fair, people need to understand two things. (1) Life can never be fair. If it were, everyone would play basketball like Michael Jordan. And a country focused on fairness is not a country focused on opportunity. Do you think China's economic growth is founded on fairness? Ask a peasant in western China if they feel like they've been treated fairly. (2) Fairness has a myriad of possible definitions. Any conservative will tell you that fairness of outcome (like spreading the wealth) isn't fair. Fairness of opportunity should be the focus of any effort to improve fairness, not fairness in outcome. In other words ending discrimination is a step towards fairness, but telling a doctor that if he makes more than $250,000 per year, isn't equitable, is in itself unfair. If he worked harder in school than someone who is a minimum wage employee at Burger King, he deserves to benefit from it. Saying he can only benefit so far, means that he should only try so far. Capping individual outcome in the name of fairness means capping effort, and capping prosperity. It means capping the country's future.

Life Just Ain't Fair, but really, it shouldn't be. We all just have to learn to deal with it.

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