The Velvet Rope Theory
A velvet rope should also mark the entrance to the ultimate VIP room: the United States of America. Immigration reform is a lot more complex than nightclub screening, but distilling the latter down to its core principles is surprisingly enlightening.
Doormen look for people who will a) stimulate the club’s economy themselves or attract others who will directly stimulate the club’s economy, b) are local and likely to be useful if treated right or c) are otherwise impressive, and if shown respect, would themselves show gratitude and attract a desirable following that would do the same and likely end up benefiting the club’s economy in both obvious and unforeseen ways.
Doormen try to keep away people who a) might attract a violent element or b) seem likely to consume resources without adding value.
This seems like a fantastic template for our immigration policy and we shouldn’t be surprised it developed at high-end destination venues. These places have to balance maintaining a certain level of quality with ensuring that enough intriguing new blood comes in to prevent the atmosphere from growing stale. So does America.
If Silicon Valley was yacht club-level stuffy and incestuous, it wouldn’t be at the leading edge of innovation, but if it let it standards slip, its crime rates creep up and its schools decline, it would suffer the same fate.
The United States is still the ultimate aspirational destination because it is one of the few places where a businesswoman with a great idea doesn’t have to bribe or network her way just to get it to market. She can let her work product speak for itself and if it performs on its merits, she reaps the rewards. If that’s the fairest way to determine winners and losers in business (I think it is and, unfortunately, too many CEOs nowadays are spoiled brats who want special favors instead of standing by their products), it stands to reason that it is also the fairest way to determine winners and losers in immigration.
A nebulous system of lotteries and sham marriages to punch a ticket to the American Dream doesn’t seem fair to immigrants who should be judged more on the content of their character and passion for this country than on their ability to seduce widowers or the fact they happened to have been born in Bulgaria instead of Poland, and it does nothing for quality control to have this most arbitrary of screening processes. It used to be even worse - homosexuality was grounds for banning an immigrant until 1990. This was in the United States of America, not Saudi Arabia.
So what would a velvet rope policy blueprint look like? The best place to start is a closer look at doormen priorities.
1. Economic stimulators
In English, this means high rollers and hot chicks. The former are big spenders and the latter are beneficiaries of big spending, and this makes both groups among the most welcomed guests at any venue, almost always bypassing any line and getting the most attentive customer service.
This basic argument makes sense for our immigration policy too; we should definitely welcome people who want to come to America to spend money or whom, by coming here, will have money spent on them. This group includes aggressive investors, hotshot programmers, engineers, scientists, media figures and others who tend to find themselves at the center of technological and social progress, and who when gathered in a decent-sized cluster in a particular area, make the local economy much more dynamic and attract other “stimulative” newcomers. We need to keep talented foreign students who excel in our schools here, and encourage those innovating elsewhere to give America a shot. They need to go to the front of the line.
Clubs that look out for locals almost never find it to be a bad business move. Locals are, of course, the most likely repeat visitors, but also to appreciate the people in the neighborhood in which you operate does foster a certain degree of goodwill and harmony.
Their counterparts in this analogy would be those undocumented immigrants who are already here, and especially those younger folks who were brought here as children, have attended school here and are Americans in all ways but the little blue book. Obama’s recent executive order halting some deportations is a welcome bit of “locals appreciation” from the White House, but we should realize that many of these immigrants are here through no fault of their own and are not leaving, and we need to let them know that if they’re willing to work hard and respect this country, this country will respect them.
This is also where the recently-affirmed part of Arizona’s SB 1070 is counterproductive, because it has the effect of creating multiple ID checks in the club for people who are already in the front door. That’s just annoying. The best local patrons are going to want to go somewhere where they are appreciated, to the detriment of Arizona.
3. Otherwise impressive people
This is a somewhat nebulous category but we’ve all seen bouncers show love to people like uniformed soldiers and firefighters, and club owners themselves happy to host charity events. The logic here is that people who have sacrificed for others or have endured real hardship deserve special acknowledgment.
Holocaust survivors came to this country with very few other places to go, and to repay the United States for welcoming (many of) them with open arms, many of them worked their tails off, built hugely successful lives and are among the most patriotic Americans you’re likely to find anywhere. This is hardly an unusual story for a group of immigrants who came here seeking a new life full of opportunity, and most importantly, security. America has always been rewarded when it has admitted people like this, because those fleeing the most desperate situations often become the most appreciative. We should continue to prioritize bringing in these people, because they do anything but take it for granted.
Now look at the people who tend to hear “we’re at capacity.”
1. Criminals and gang members
We can all agree (well, maybe not Eric Holder) that we do not want uncontrolled guns being shuttled across our borders. This is almost always the biggest concern for doormen and for good reason.
We also do not need gang members or members of other violent organizations entering this country. Clubs often profile, sometimes to an extent and in a manner I find racially insensitive and ignorant, but they follow the Chris Rock “whore uniform” logic to basically determine that if you look like someone who is gang-affiliated, you will be interpreted as one.
Given the nation-based way immigration laws and standards are written, officials don’t scrutinize international ties nearly as much as police and even school administrators do. We’ve been much stricter with people who have HIV than active gang members. Politicians, like doormen, should enter the modern era and realize that gang members and members of hate groups are worldwide, online and generally identifiable. I’m not really worried about an accidental blood transfusion with an HIV-positive immigrant, but I don’t like cartel members ping-ponging across the Sonora Desert.
2. Resource hogs
No club wants miserly people who are going to take up space, bump into other customers, use the restroom repeatedly and ask for ice water or “whatever’s the cheapest” at the bar. They do nothing to make the club a better place and end up costing the other patrons more money in the long run.
Immigration policy should also keep this in mind. America should always be the land of opportunity where you can come with nothing and end up with everything, but it should not be the land of free money where you can come with nothing, never work, and get the basics paid for by the rest of us. Being poor shouldn’t penalize an immigrant, but not working or studying when of working age should be a giant black mark. An immigrant who holds a blue-collar job in his native country but aspires for a better life here should be given full credit for a strong work ethic. Mail-order brides should not.
The velvet rope policy is not only proactive and sensible but quintessentially American. It basically calls for our immigration screening process to be more like American Idol, where everyone gets an equal chance to state his or her case in front of a judge, regardless of background or origin, and not Powerball, where undeserving knuckleheads often get the big prize. We should reward good behavior, ambition, passion and loyalty, and punish crime and free ridership. It is time for our policymakers to think like doormen who can make judgment calls instead of gatekeepers beholden to bureaucracy.
Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.