Think about what his case says about our system as a whole. Here’s a guy who was born in Britain, our closest ally in the world. He did his undergraduate work at Oxford University, and holds two post-graduate degrees from Harvard University. He speaks fluent English, and is better versed in American civics than the vast majority of US citizens. Tremendously successful in his career, he’s a huge net plus for the federal treasury, and as small a financial risk as can be imagined: if his employer shuttered tomorrow, he could survive on donations from readers, or get a lucrative book contract without trying, or start doing more speaking engagements and survive on fees alone.
Finally, Andrew had an immigration lawyer – one imagines a very good one – helping him through this years long process. Despite all that, it took this man, an ideal immigrant as measured by the self-interest of the receiving country, 18 years just to get permission to stay permanently!
This is absurd, and as effective a disincentive to go through the legal process as can be imagined. Thankfully it all worked out in the end for Andrew, as so many things seem to be doing – the America that just welcomed him is more tolerant of gay marriage, more accepting of HIV (one of many complications in his bid to become a citizen), and more celebratory toward beards than the one where he first arrived. Still, the story of Andrew Sullivan’s immigration ordeal is as powerful an example you’ll find of the need for a better immigration protocol – one that is easier on folks who want to come here legally, and more advantageous for an America than can always use more intelligent, hard-working achievers.
I think people underestimate the massive costs of our dysfunctional immigration system to Americans. In the contemporary immigration debate, proposals to liberalize immigration rules are often framed as acts of generosity by American citizens toward would-be immigrants. But Sullivan’s case illustrates how massively counterproductive our immigration policies are from the perspective of narrow American self-interest. At any point over the last 18 years, Sullivan could have decided that getting his green card was too much trouble and moved back to his native country. If he had done that, both the United States economy and the United States Treasury would have been poorer as a result.
Few potential immigrants are as talented or successful as Sullivan is, but there are probably millions of people who are almost certain to be net taxpayers and net contributors to our economy. It’s ridiculous that we don’t offer such individuals a fast and predictable process for obtaining a green card.