Crossing Borders: Paying Your Way

December 3, 2011

Political Theory


Immigration into the United States has recently resurfaced as a topic of major controversy and heated debate. Historically, the U.S. prides itself on being a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, accepting all peoples who are willing to take pride and uphold American values. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” reads the plaque standing beneath the Statue of Liberty, a sign to immigrants that people from all sects of life could be given equal opportunities in America. However, according to The Economist internet article, “Give me your Gucci-clad masses,”  two senators, Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Mike Lee, a republican representing Utah, have proposed a piece of legislation that allows foreigners who spend more than $500,000 on residential properties a fast track to obtaining visas, and ultimately, American citizenship. This act would allow buyers and their families to live in the United States indefinitely, regardless if they work in the country. The idea behind the legislation is that these wealthy jet-setters will be able to boost the United States’ housing market, currently in despair following the housing and financial debacles of 2008. Buyers of these expensive properties would be liable to live in the country for at least six months, and be forced to pay (American) taxes on all income, whether received in their native countries or the U.S. Additionally, The Immigrant Investor Program, also known as EB-5, has also been set up since 1990 to lure (wealthy) foreigners to buy American property and invest in the United States by giving them the right to live and work there permanently if their purchases and investments would incentivize the creation of jobs, in either the public or private spheres.

A Visa Card for U.S. Immigration: Just a Matter of Bank?

The rest, and large majority, or immigrants wishing to be granted visas or potential citizenship face a much longer and tedious path. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Immigrant website, to even be eligible for an application for a visa, one must be “sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative(s), U.S. lawful permanent resident, or by a prospective employer, and be the beneficiary of an approved petition filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (U.S Department of State, Travel and Visa Procedures).” So unless one has a personal connection with a citizen of the U.S., attaining visas becomes an even more arduous process. And once an immigrant receives a sponsorship, they must undergo extensive procedures, testing, and payments before the government can issue one to them. Additionally, all of these must be paid for by the applicant, and these costs in total can run into the thousands of dollars, of which is often outside the budgets of many wishing applicants.

Does owning this make an immigrant a good citizen?

What we come to see is that immigration into the United States heavily favors those of substantial means and aims to keep out people of the middle and lower classes. Is this an infringement on these people’s human rights, and is it an act of hypocrisy, as Americans beg to usher sentiments of equality for all? I believe that classical conservative philosopher Edmund Burke would find no problem with the course of action the U.S. has taken regarding immigration, and would be, in fact, very much in favor of it.  According to an excerpt from “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke makes the case that individuals of means should be allotted the rights which come from their social status, stating:

“Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour. In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not to equal things. (pg. 109 hp.51)”

Thus, according to Burke, well to do immigrants should be allowed an easier pathway to American citizenship, considering that his stock, or portion, of society I greater than his less wealthy contemporaries. Furthermore, it can be alluded that Burke would agree that if wealthy immigrants can attain visas and citizenships by providing for American jobs and improving the quality of the U.S. economy on the basis of their purchases, it is in the overall benefit of American society to allow these individuals in easier than persons who cannot contribute to the overall wellbeing of society.

Edmund Burke says "Money makes the man," or "Pay it Forward."

Although it might seem unfair to some that certain immigrants gain priority status or an expedited passage into citizenship based on the size of their bank account, Burke would argue that these people have earned such a right based upon their social stock. A person’s freedom, or liberty, to try to gain status is not the same as his or her ease to do so, based on the aforementioned factors. Does Burke’s logic that elite individuals are entitled to more benefits make the case for this immigration situation? Or is his analysis simply outdated and unfair, overlooking modern society’s trends, mindsets, and values?

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2 Comments on “Crossing Borders: Paying Your Way”

  1. goldman13 Says:

    Personally, i agree with Burke. The idea that Chuck Schumer and Mike Lee have proposed is interesting and grounded in an honest and morally in-line attempt to boost the economic status of the United States. Of course their proposal limits immigration to those who can afford 500,000 dollar homes and the lifestyle that goes with them, but in he current economic and political turmoil, i say why not?

    The United States was founded on a somewhat unrealistic ideal: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” Granting immigrants who can’t afford taxes and are nearly unemployable entrance to the United States/citizenship would hurt those who are already citizens. The government has a responsibility to act in the best interest of its citizens, and therefore lax immigration laws are not an option.

    As Burke says, “Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself.” There is a point in life where people are forced to look out for themselves and their families, and this selfishness should not be given a negative connotation. If they can afford to emigrate, then they should be able to. If they have worked hard enough and have attained enough success allowing them to seek a better life in a different country, then they should not be held back by those who haven’t/didn’t,

  2. luniho Says:

    The application of Burke’s thoughts here is well discussed. This legislation, though it would certainly correspond with this philosopher’s views, in no way measures up to the tenets of traditional American thought. Much as the plaque found at the base of the Statue of Liberty states, this nation has pledged to take on the disadvantaged of any country who seeks citizenry.
    Establishing wealthy immigrants as superior to those with less monetary resources is immoral and inaccurate. Quality of a citizen cannot be determined by the amount of money that he or she may bring to the country. I feel like this too relates to the recent Occupy Wall Street protests; the 1%, the wealthy among us, should not be able to hold this much power over the rest of us. Moneyed immigrants should not hold sway over those without similar resources.

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