Helen Raleigh is a senior contributor at the Federalist and the author of The Broken Welcome Mat, a new edition of which will be published on May 19. She spoke with City Journal associate editor Daniel Kennelly.
The Broken Welcome Mat is now in a second edition; you first published it in 2016. Could you tell us what’s changed in the intervening years—both in the American political scene and in the book?
The first edition was published right after Donald Trump was elected. His harsh rhetoric on immigrants bothered me. But in May 2019, President Trump proposed changing U.S. immigration from emphasizing family reunions to merit-based immigration. A White House official invited me to Washington to discuss immigration reform after he had read my book, which presented merit-based immigration as a way forward. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything, including the administration’s priorities.
Under the Biden presidency, America has experienced the worst border crisis in U.S. history, accompanied by a migrant humanitarian crisis, while the long wait for legal immigration has worsened. Merit-based immigration is the only way to address our nation’s legal and illegal immigration issues. I’ve incorporated the most recent studies and data in the second edition to strengthen my arguments.
What did the Founders think about citizenship, assimilation, and allegiance—all concepts, as the book notes, that have come under attack from the Left in recent years?
The Founders emphasized that assimilation for newcomers is essential because the U.S. was founded upon specific ideas and moral principles. George Washington deemed that new immigrants should “by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”
The Founders believed that immigrants must give up prior allegiances and pledge an oath of fidelity to the U.S. because “the safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment,” as Alexander Hamilton put it.
They also believed that U.S. citizenship should be earned. They imposed a residency requirement before citizenship. So, a new immigrant should “have an opportunity of knowing the circumstances of our Government, and in consequence thereof, shall have admitted the truth of the principles we hold.”
When did you come to the United States? And what route did you take to becoming a U.S. citizen?
I came to the U.S. in 1996 on a student visa. After earning two master’s degrees, I became an H1B worker. In 2005, my employer submitted an employment-based green card (a permanent U.S. residency) petition for me, but it went nowhere due to backlogs. I became a green card holder through marriage in 2008 and a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2013. Thus, my immigration journey took 17 years.
What does your story illustrate about America’s immigration and naturalization processes and the ways we should consider reforming them?
My experience illustrates how broken our immigration system is because of the long waits, huge backlogs, strict quotas, terrible bureaucracy, and insanely complex immigration laws. Our immigration laws’ emphasis on family reunion also engenders dependency and chain migration, making it difficult for hardworking, America-loving, law-abiding, and highly skilled people with no initial family tie to come and stay in the U.S. legally and become American.
Could you describe in brief your argument that the U.S. should adopt a merit-based legal immigration system? What would that look like?
The U.S. should adopt an immigration system similar to those of Canada and Australia. For example, Canada’s skill-based (aka merit-based) immigration lets prospective immigrants self-assess through a web-based point system, which evaluates an applicant’s education, language skills, and work experiences. Canada invites only those who scored 67 points or more to apply for skill-based immigration. A skilled immigrant can gain permanent resident status in less than a year. A 2020 Canadian government report shows that 95 percent of immigrants who came through the federal worker program were employed one year after admission. Their employment rate and earnings exceeded those of native-born Canadians soon after landing and continue to increase.
The U.S. should adopt a similar merit-based immigration policy, which is straightforward, transparent, simple, objective, and effective. Most importantly, it creates a win-win for our nation and for immigrants themselves.