Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Huddled masses pass life test



When a baby is born, a doctor immediately gives it a five-step "Apgar test," making sure the child doesn't need medical intervention. The Trump administration is proposing its own Apgar test—only for adults.

Here are some young adults I had the privilege to meet over the last few years when I was head of communications for Cal Poly's College of Engineering.

Tell me if they should have failed the test.

Andrea discovered a passion for social entrepreneurship when she worked on PolyHouse, a Cal Poly Engineering class project that provided home renovations to local families struggling with disabilities.

An officer of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at Cal Poly, Abel led a team to design a robot that encourages children to be more active. They took first place in a national contest.

Eduardo won the CSU Student Research Competition before taking a management position in a Silicon Valley tech company.

Chosen to participate in NASA's Aeronautics Academy internship program, Alonso gave a presentation at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Because of Ana's distinguished academic performance and her contributions to a remarkable project that helps amputees climb stairs, she was named an Outstanding Woman in Engineering.

What links these individuals?

They are Cal Poly graduates. They are first-generation college students and children of immigrants who would have been barred from legal entry to the U.S. under the RAISE Act introduced this year by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and David Perdue (R-Georgia).

Recently touted by President Trump, RAISE—Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment—would reduce immigration to the U.S. by 50 percent, impose a cap of 50,000 refugee admissions per year, and end the visa diversity lottery. Trump advisors Steve Bannon (of Breitbart) and Stephen Miller (architect of Trump's Muslim ban) helped craft the proposal.

The numbers of those hoping to join family members as they seek free and prosperous lives in the U.S. will be halved under the Cotton-Perdue bill, largely due to sharp cuts in family-based immigration.

Instead, RAISE would institute a merit-based Apgar test based on points awarded for education, English fluency, high-paying job offers, age, achievement awards, and—get this—investment of at least $1.35 million in an entrepreneurial enterprise or U.S. company.

As you can imagine, many are arguing the merits (and demerits) of RAISE, using debatable statistics, imagined economic scenarios, political rhetoric, stereotypical assumptions, and commissioned studies.

It's not surprising that the Trump administration 86'd a key Department of Health and Human Services study. Why? Because it demonstrated that between 2005 and 2014, refugees stimulated a net increase of $63 billion in government revenues over public benefit costs.

The study debunks arguments made by immigration opponents about the greater value of "desirable," elite return-on-investment immigrants over refugee immigrants fleeing war-torn countries.

Let's return to the stories of those first-generation students.

Born in Vietnam, Andrea immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was 6. "My parents want me to go as far as possible because they didn't have the opportunity to get an education themselves," she said.

Abel, Eduardo, Alonso, and Ana, meanwhile, were all born in Mexico to parents with limited or no English speaking skills.

Fact is, these parents are all around us. They struggle and sacrifice so that their children would have a better life.

Abel's father and mother showed him that "you can succeed, even with limited resources." "Mom used to say, 'Go to Stanford. Be a doctor!'"

Alonso noted that his dad taught him how to weld. On a tour of NASA facilities in Mountain View, Alonso got to show him his own designs for "things Dad could only imagine."

These high-achieving students are proud of themselves, certainly, and they're proud of their parents who would not score "desirable" green card status under RAISE but envisioned a better life for their kids.

The anti-immigration Apgar boys would have us believe that the intrinsic value of any individual immigrant can be measured and foreseen by an elite values test.

But even an Apgar test for newborns can't predict long-term health—nor can the RAISE merit system assure success. What it for sure will not do is allow for the uniquely American dreams of immigrant families like those of Alonso, Abel, and Ana.

In fact, Ana started her Cal Poly education as undocumented. Without official U.S. identification, she could not hold a driver's license or be legally employed. As a Dreamer under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ana was able to fully assimilate into the U.S.

Throughout the county, many Anas are among us, making all our lives better.

"I want to share my bachelor's degree and eventually Ph.D. with my grandmother and mother, who were denied the privilege of an education," Ana said. "I am determined that our new family history begins with me." Δ

Amy Hewes is filling in for Kristine Johnson this week. She is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at [email protected].

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