Podcast….Alien stories that make America great

imgresSomeone who reads this blog sent their podcast to me.

They recently launched a podcast, Not an Alien, to highlight people’s immigration experiences in the US.  It is the fabric of our country and it is their way of sharing people’s stories and in turn educating those who listen.
The have posted an interview a day for the last 20 days, and plan to continue to do so until the election, after that they will scale back to once a week.  It is a pure labor of love as the people behind this podcast have full time jobs.  This podcast is done by a married couple.  Neelu, the wife, came to the US as a college student, stayed on a work visa, and got her green card after they married in 2013 so this is certainly a passion project.
Here‘s the first interview, which Neelu and her husband, Tom, did together.  I really love the concept and passion behind these human “alien” stories.

Comments (Archived):

  1. JLM

    .LEGAL immigration is a beautiful thing, no?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. thinkdisruptive

      It’s the right way to do it, but it certainly isn’t a beautiful thing. Even when you do everything by the book and are “highly desirable” it is an arduous, expensive and unnecessarily bureaucratic process that doesn’t accomplish anything except making lawyers rich and keeping civil servants employed. I was a legal immigrant, almost 10 years before 9/11 (when it was undoubtedly easier than now), and it took 3 years from start to finish and over $30K in legal bills to my employer for my wife and I. No American (who hasn’t had to endure the gauntlet) should be proud of how this country screens people, or the nonsense that good, honest, skilled and eager people have to endure — the same types of people who built the US in the early days by coming here for opportunity and creating it for others — or the money that it costs, or the criteria used, or the bureaucracy managing it. Unfortunately, because it doesn’t affect 99% of Americans (directly), they have no idea of how poorly the system functions, what a bad impression it creates externally, how much waste there is, or how much indignity it imposes.I don’t agree that anyone who broke the country’s laws to get here should be welcomed by the system, no matter how long they’ve been here or how many kids they have that have grown up here. That defies common sense, creates security risks, imposes huge social and tax burdens, and isn’t fair to those who follow the rules. On the other hand, I can sympathize with those who feel they haven’t a choice, and are desperate for a chance to raise their family’s opportunities and living standards (both here and at home) to a higher level.The US would do itself a great service to admit a much larger number of people (up to 5 times the rate currently allowed) than it currently does, particularly those who have specialized skills and education or who are in a position to create jobs for others. The inverse — especially where America gives up precious spots in its best universities, and then forces graduates to leave, is absolutely silly. Graduates who go on to create companies and jobs and tax base elsewhere that could have been created here if we were more open-minded. Those people aren’t taking jobs or opportunities away from anyone here — that is, unless they are forced out and create companies that compete with us from foreign countries. We should also be admitting people who want to work in jobs that Americans are unwilling to do (often at the lowest rungs of society), and on compassionate grounds (refugees). These tend to be the most grateful, and the hardest working immigrants who give the most back to the communities they live in. In all cases, we should be able to expedite the process, streamline paperwork, radically improve efficiency, have a quick decision, and do it all for a fraction of the cost — it shouldn’t take more than 3 months from start to finish to do everything legally, complete the due diligence and screening, and get on with enabling integration into their new country. And we should consider a total cost of $1000 excessive (just the filing fees for the necessary documentation costs more than that now).Apart from the huge debt burden that we’ve accumulated, much of what ails the country today can be traced to badly broken immigration policy. Many tech companies wait for years to fill important positions because we send newly minted engineers and computer scientists back to their home country instead of allowing them to work here. That slows innovation and new product releases, and also job growth in other parts of those companies. Manufacturers can’t fill positions that require certain technical skills because everyone here wants to go to college and ignores those trades as options (with the result of increasing pressure to outsource what remains of those jobs and factories to other countries.) Often companies will choose to expand in other countries because it’s easier to get the workers they need. Moreover, in many cases, we are now competing against companies those graduates went home to found startups elsewhere. On top of that, there are no intelligent criteria for who gets admitted. We haven’t established preferences (such as they do in Canada see: http://www.cic.gc.ca/englis… that encourage and fast track the kinds of immigrants we want and need, nor can we screen people quickly or efficiently enough to satisfy temporary needs.Legal or not, immigrants tend to be more ambitious, harder-working, self-starting and top contributors. Unlike native-born Americans, they choose to come here seeking opportunity, and not only do what’s necessary to succeed, but provide those opportunities for others. They also improve the cultural fabric in arts, food, our understanding of other countries, and so many other areas. When they come legally, they are also tax-paying, and are a net contribution to healthcare and education systems, rather than a state-funded drain on it.We should make it possible and practical for many more to come legally, and establish clear criteria and eliminate the roadblocks to doing it right. And, in fairness to everyone, if we are going to deny entry, we should do it quickly and decisively with clear reasons, and live with the consequences. One of the reasons we have such a debate about this is that we are surprisingly dependent on illegal immigrants, but not really cognizant of that. If we could and did force those here illegally to leave, it would cripple many businesses — so, after many years of doing it wrong, a sudden change in policy enforcement now would do serious harm to us. On top of that, lax enforcement of existing rules allows many to believe the system is working fine and that we don’t need more immigration. It also encourages people to live in the shadows, be exploited by unscrupulous employers, and not come forward to become legal and start contributing to the system for fear of reprisal.Functioning legal immigration could be a beautiful thing. The existing system is anything but.

      1. Gotham Gal

        I agree with you 110%.

          1. thinkdisruptive

            Ummmm, no. That is crazier than how the system operates now. It already costs an immigrant dearly to pull up stakes and move, whether or not they are sponsored by a company. There are moving costs, taxation costs, resettlement costs, the cost of selling off possessions and reacquiring them in your new home, travel costs, breaking ties with friends and family costs, loss of retirement benefits costs, and many others. Asking for another 50K per person is obscenely stupid, unless the objective is to erect an extremely high barrier to legal immigration, increase your compliance and enforcement costs, and encourage more people to come illegally.My point was that immigration is beneficial to the country, not that it imposes a penalty. The idea that legal immigrants create a net cost on welfare, Medicaid and schools is ludicrous. Those who are here legally, and especially those who I have suggested employers need and we should give preference to, pay taxes just like Americans, and usually near the top rates. Those who aren’t paying into the system definitely cost us, and if you don’t have a social security number (i.e. you are here illegally), what are the odds that you are paying taxes, have health insurance, and aren’t creating a school burden with your kids? If you ensure everyone who is here is here legally, you will have solved any material “cost to America issues”. If immigration is not only beneficial, but desperately needed (which I’m suggesting it is), why would you want to put up a barrier that would stop the vast majority of people who you would want to accept from even applying?For a professor of price theory and sociology to show such a profound lack of understanding of how money influences decisions (i.e. he understands neither people nor pricing) is mind-boggling. And, that doesn’t consider the corrupting influence of money — at 50K/head, agencies would be strongly incentivized to accept anyone willing to pony up the funds, and to do minimal due diligence. Osama bin Laden, for example, probably could have afforded the price tag, and in the 1990s, we probably would have let him in if such a program existed. How much more damage could folks like that do from the inside?If we’re going to propose dumb ideas, why not ask everyone born in the US to pay 50K for the right to stay here? We can just add it to their student loan debt if they can’t afford to pay and don’t want to leave the country once they become adults. Scarily, it would take about 50 years of doing that to pay off the country’s accumulated debt, so maybe it is a good idea (or maybe, it’s implicit in being born American).

          2. pointsnfigures

            We disagree. How much does it cost in red tape? I think you illustrated some costs above in your first post. How much under the table bribery takes place today? I bet it’s quite a bit.If you read and listen to Becker’s points, you will understand he is pro-immigration. But, because there is a supply curve of immigrants wanting to come to the US-and there is certainly demand for them; the price system works best to allocate all the resources.

          3. thinkdisruptive

            There are definitely “under the table” costs. After three years, our file was sitting on some bureaucrat’s desk waiting for the final rubber stamps, and had been there for several months with no action. At that stage, we had to surrender our passports while we waited for the final adjudication, and were unable to leave the country, which put quite a damper on being able to conduct business. Ultimately, we paid our lawyer to walk the documents from one desk to another in Dallas, and then to send them to Washington and have an agent there walk them to the bureaucrat who needed to sign them. It cost a few thousand extra, and it felt like ransom/extortion, especially since we had elderly parents and were worried that if any of them died, we wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral and get back into the country. I’m willing to bet that some of that money ended up in the pockets of the immigration dept officials, but have no way to know for sure. Didn’t make a real strong impression on us about the integrity of the system.I understand that at some level Becker is pro-immigration, but that doesn’t mean he understands people or pricing or motivations (behavioral economics). Yes, there are people who want to come. On the other side, there is an even greater need for more immigrants. That doesn’t suggest imposing a birthplace penalty, it suggests relaxing the quotas and being particular about who you let in and why. It isn’t a supply/demand equation — there is an artificial imbalance in the equilibrium caused by bad policy, and all a proposal like this would do is exacerbate it and increase the incentives for more illegal activity to work around the system, which as I noted earlier, would increase the cost to manage the system and decrease confidence by US citizens in how it works. Price is not the right way to fix every problem, and certainly not this one, And, that’s regardless of the price tag attached, although 50K is so absurd, it has no credibility as a realistic solution.For further clarity, using price as a discriminant to decide who will be allowed in assumes that 1) there is a huge surplus of potential (highly qualified) immigrants vs available jobs (which there isn’t — it’s actually the opposite), b) that everyone who wants to enter the US is equally desirable and therefore who gets in is best decided by who is willing to pay, c) that asking for an entry tax is not self-defeating (demand killing), and d) that imposition of such a system doesn’t have all kinds of negative externalities (e.g. creates incentives to subvert the system, causes other countries to impose punitive fees against Americans or outright deny entry to them, increases costs, slows down processing, etc).The only “demand” you would see at a 50K price tag is from the people you would least want to let in, and it would be no more than a few thousand people per year — no where near the 1M the current system allows (which is too few to satisfy the US needs for skilled/educated people).With any system, you need to understand what the objectives are and what strategies best achieve those objectives before you create solutions. There is no immigration objective that is well-served by imposing a 50K price tag.

          4. Tom O'Keefe

            @gothamgal:disqus, thank you again for the shout out! @thinkdisruptive:disqus , what a refreshingly nuanced, thorough, and evidence-based take on many issues surrounding immigration, and on the challenges faced by documented immigrants in particular. Had missed this thread until last night. We’d love to have you on Not an Alien if you might be interested. Reach us at [email protected]