Yesterday's NBA All-Star Game marked the mid-point of its season, and the story that stole the headlines at the end of the first half was the New York Knicks' rookie sensation Jeremy Lin who seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Lin's face has landed on the cover of the last two issues of Sports Illustrated and the covers of Time Magazine and newspapers across the country. Not all the headlines have been about Lin's 14 points and 6 assists per game, though, or his leading the Knicks to wins in his first seven games, but instead, some in the media have focused on what the Lin story means to U.S. immigration policy.
Jeremy Lin was born and raised in Palo Atlo, Calif. to immigrant parents. Lin's father emigrated from Taiwan to the United States in 1977 where he met his wife who also emigrated from Taiwan. Lin was born in the U.S., earned admission to one of the nation's top universities (Harvard) after attending U.S. public schools, and has a jump shot that helped him score 38-points against the Lakers (4 more than Kobe Bryant) and a game-winning 3-pointer against the Raptors.
Some in the media, however, have taken the Lin story as a way to argue for more immigration and to attack groups, like NumbersUSA, who advocate for lower immigration levels. The former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, David Leopold, wrote this in an op-ed piece posted on the Huffington Post:
Lin is one of the few Asian Americans in NBA history, and the first American player in the league to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He is also the American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants.
But Lin might not be playing for the Knicks, or for any other team in the NBA, if the anti-immigrant restrictionists had their way . . .
NumbersUSA, for example, calls for a "time-out" on practically all immigration.
Leopold often calls NumbersUSA anti-immigrant, but that couldn't be further from the truth. NumbersUSA is pro-immigrant and supports a "time-out" on non-essential immigration to help the 2.3 million unemployed immigrants get back to work. (The unemployment rate among foreign-born Americans over the age of 16 is 9.4% - a full percentage point more than the national unemployment rate.) But to say that Lin wouldn't be in the United States if we had our way with immigration policy is preposterous.
When Lin's father came to the U.S. in 1977, the unemployment rate was below 7% and annual immigration was half of what it is today. The U.S. issued 458,755 green cards in 1977, and in the early-70s when the country was going through a recession, levels were less than 400,000. In contrast, when the U.S. lost more than 4 million jobs in 2009, the feds issued 1,130,818 green cards, which was an 18-year high and the third highest total since the Great Wave at the turn of the 20th century. And yet, with immigration levels in 1977 half of what they are today, Lin's parents still managed to find way to come to the U.S. legally.
To see an immigration attorney call out NumbersUSA isn't anything new or surprising, nor is it surprising to see an open-borders editorial in the Wall Street Journal. But I never thought the Journal would use the Lin story to try and advance its open-borders agenda.
Mr. Lin didn't come from nowhere. He was born and raised in the United States after the federal government managed to allow his parents to move here from Taiwan in the 1970s. Like so many others who have enriched America and the world, the two engineers made their way to California's Silicon Valley . . .
It turns out he can split a double team and distribute the ball in a way that makes his teammates better, not unlike (metaphorically speaking) immigrants in other fields. The policy lesson is that America wins when it welcomes talented people, whether or not they start semiconductor companies.
NumbersUSA has always supported legal immigration for foreigners with extraordinary skills. We also support legal immigration for spouses and minor children and our fair share of refugees and asylees. We don't know if Lin's parents had extraordinary skills when they came in the mid-70s, but we do know that they are engineers who have spent most of their lives working in Silicon Valley and came to the U.S. right around the same time a little company called Apple was also getting its start in the Valley.
Immigration is part of our national story, and we would never call for an end to all immigration. But our immigration policy should always be in our best national interest that helps the needs of citizens, legal immigrants, and our economy -- not in the best interest of immigration lawyers who make money by helping immigrants come here legally or editorial boards that support the cheap labor needs of big business.
I think it's great for the game of basketball, and all sports for that matter, that Jeremy Lin and the Asian American community is getting so much attention. The four major professional sports organizations in the U.S. -- NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB -- have been trying to expand their international outreach of years. We've already seen it work in baseball with an influx of players from Central America and Japan and in football with the success of foreign-born players like Hines Ward of the Steelers and Osi Umenyiora of the Giants.
For years, NBA teams have added foreign-born players to their rosters, but Lin is the first native-born, Taiwanese player to make headlines. I don't think Lin's success, however, should translate to an increase an immigration. Let's hope the media's focus on the second half of the NBA season, which starts tomorrow, stays on the game itself, rather than on our country's immigration policy.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Mar 2nd 2012 @ 11:12am EST