»  Taki's Magazine

July 7th, 2011

  Suckers of the World

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Americans are nice people. We are generous and open-hearted. Our nation is big and lush, and most of it is empty. (Our mean population density of 83 per square mile ranks us number 179 out of 240 on this list. Ireland is twice as dense; Turkey, three times; Bangladesh, thirty-five times.) The most cherished of our founding documents declares that "all men are created equal." Our dominant religion teaches that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Plainly we are among those to whom much has been given. It follows that much is required of us; and since all men are created equal, our bounty must be extended to all, without distinction or discrimination.

These national attitudes look somewhat different from the outside. Our pride in our nation and willingness to share it strikes foreigners as touching, but a bit naïve. When Bertrand Russell visited the U.S.A. in the late 1890s he recorded puzzled amusement at the way Americans asked him how he liked their country. It was, he said, as if someone were to ask: "How do you like my wife?"

This eagerness on the part of Americans to be liked and admired has a great upside for foreigners: we are extravagantly keen to have them come settle here. We take their desire to do so as an expression of flattery, confirming our own high opinion of ourselves.

The downside of our cheerful open-handedness is that it makes the U.S.A. a great magnet for freeloaders and unscrupulous lowlifes. In the news, or flitting around the edge of it, at any given time are always half a dozen stories of such.

You don't have to dig deep for these stories. A couple of them are always there in the first few pages of your newspaper or up front on the Drudge Report. Not uncommonly, one of them is a headliner. Among the current crop:

The accuser of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. This lady arrived from the West African nation of Guinea in 2004 claiming asylum on the grounds that she had been persecuted and raped in that country, and her husband had been murdered, because of their opposition to the ruling regime.

None of it was true.

Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea. According to their letter, she "fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording" that she memorized. She also said that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was a lie.

In order to make that cassette recording, someone had to know exactly what to say in order to game the asylum process. Obviously someone does know.

In fact, tens of thousands of people world-wide know. U.S. immigration, asylum, and refugee-resettlement procedures are subjects of intensive study in Third World countries. I doubt if one U.S. citizen in ten thousand could tell you the difference between a K-1 visa and an H-4 visa; in Jakarta, Bogotá, Islamabad, and Ouagadougou, they speak of little else.

In any Third World bazaar there is a street of vendors offering help with getting into the U.S.A. Some of the help is of a legitimate kind: translation services, college applications, connection with employers. Some is more … creative. It is highly unlikely that the cassette in the New York Times story about DSK's accuser was made for the benefit of that one woman. More probably the production of such teaching aids is a major industry in West Africa.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a web journalist at the Huffington Post, formerly a print journalist at the Washington Post, unmasked himself as an illegal immigrant in a long piece for the New York Times.

Vargas came to this country from his native Philippines at age 12, sent by his mother in care of a "coyote" to live with his grandparents in San Francisco. On applying for a driver's license four years later he discovered his immigration documents were fake. Vargas kept his secret, going through high school and college and on into his career as a journalist. He was lying all the way, using forged documents and claiming U.S. citizenship when filling out forms.

Job opportunities in print journalist have been dwindling for years. Plenty of citizens would have given a limb for that job Vargas got at the Washington Post. How did he get it? It probably didn't hurt that he was an affirmative-action three-fer: An immigrant, Hispanic-surnamed (though ethnically Filipino), and homosexual.

Henry Velandia. For Third World gamers of the U.S. immigration system, the main difficulty must be to keep up with the ever-increasing number of ways we make the system-gaming easier. Our latest helping hand: same-sex marriage.

Henry Velandia, a 27-year-old professional salsa dancer from Caracas [Vemezuela] now living in New Jersey, legally married U.S. citizen Josh Vandiver, 30, in Connecticut last year, but due to the Defense of Marriage Act — a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman — Vandiver was not allowed to sponsor Velandia for a green card in the same way a heterosexual person could for his or her spouse. The Department of Homeland Security nevertheless decided to drop deportation efforts against him Wednesday.

So we have just de facto extended asylum rights to any person, from anywhere in the world, who claims to be homosexual. Over in Ouagadougou they're already recording a new set of cassette tapes.

Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi. Both these gentlemen were arrested in May on terrorism charges. Both had entered the U.S.A. in 2009 as refugees, in spite of active careers fighting against U.S. troops in Iraq.

The things they're accused of doing were in Iraq, their fingerprints were found on IEDs in Iraq …They got into this country as a mistake …

I wonder how many similar "mistakes" there were among the 56,000 Iraqis admitted to the U.S.A. for settlement under that same refugee program.

And there was no shortage of public funds to provide Mr Alwan and Mr Hammadi with the necessities of life — you know, the stuff — housing, health care — that you, Joe Citizen, have to work your ass off for:

Both entered the country legally as Iraqi refugees, receiving publicly funded housing assistance and health care.

Zeituni Onyango. Out of the news since her big break last year, Barack Obama's Aunt Zeituni remains a poster gal for the propositions that: (a) If a U.S. federal judge orders you to do something, and you don't do it, nothing whatever will happen to you. (b) If you make illegal contributions to the campaign of a presidential candidate to whom you are related, and that candidate become President, nothing whatever will happen to you. (c) No matter how deep a pit of debt the U.S.A. and its states and municipalities sink down into, there's always $700 a month and free housing to spare for a foreign freeloader.

I am of course aware that some of those who claim asylum really do have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries; that some refugees are honestly grateful for our generosity and determined to enter into the American spirit of industrious self-support; that most Filipinos seeking to enter the U.S.A. for reasons of family reunification are willing to wait out the legal process for the number of years — up to twenty-three in the F4 category — listed here.

I am also aware that many Americans would consider these freeloaders and public nuisances to be incidental to the larger purpose of proving our benevolence and fulfilling our mission as a haven for the poor and oppressed — just a tolerable trace of grit in the machinery. In this view the costs of housing, feeding, educating, healing, and/or prosecuting and incarcerating the Vargases, Onyangos, et al., are merely part of what is required from us, to whom so much has been given.

Does it not sometimes occur even to these gentle souls, though, that it might, by dint of a sterner and more rigorous regulation of entry and settlement, be possible to maintain our status as the Hope of the World while shedding our growing reputation as the Suckers of the World?