The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a group identified as part of the anti-immigrant “nativist lobby,” is now targeting soccer fans in a weak attempt at using the ethnic make-up of the US soccer team to somehow prove that immigration isn’t “helping” America. In a blog post, CIS staffer David Seminara wonders why the US men’s soccer team is so “American”:
If soccer is the world’s sport, and America is the world’s leading beacon for immigrants around the globe, why aren’t immigrants making a bigger impact playing soccer for the Stars and Stripes?…Perhaps the issue here is one of assimilation, or lack thereof in a post-American society, or perhaps it’s just the free agency concept spilling over from professional leagues into international competition. Either way, it sure would be nice to see all of our best players representing the Stars and Stripes, and being cheered by the home crowds. An even greater cause for concern than the lack of immigrants on our national side is the fact that some top-notch U.S.-born soccer players are choosing to play for other countries.
However, the fact that there are few immigrants on the US Men’s and Women’s National Soccer team says a lot more about what’s wrong with the country’s immigration system than what’s wrong with immigrants. In order to play for the US soccer team, players have to be US citizens and the process of legal immigration and naturalization in the US is not easy. To begin with, there are overly restrictive and limited avenues for obtaining legal immigration status in the US. Green cards are only distributed to foreigners who have family members already legally present in the US, political refugees, foreign workers with certain job skills and education-levels that can find an employer to sponsor their visa, and the lucky winners of the annual Diversity “lottery” Visa program which makes green cards available only to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. All of these legal avenues are subject to stringent restrictions that cap visas, irrespective of the supply or demand for workers.
Once here, the process of becoming a US citizen is no walk in the park either. In order to become a US citizen, most individuals must be 18 years-old, have had legal permanent resident status (a green card) for at least 5 years, demonstrate continuous residency and “good moral character,” pass English and U.S. history and civics exams, and pay an application fee. At this point, application fees are so high that citizenship applications are down 62%.
Seminara lists off three US-born children of immigrants who chose to play for the national teams of their parents’ countries to argue that immigration isn’t helping the US in terms of soccer. Meanwhile, Stephen Piggott of the Center for New Community points out that five of the starting 11 players who recently played and won a game against Spain — the number one ranked team in the world — Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Ricardo Clark, and Jozy Altidore are the sons of Hungarian, Mexican, Nigerian, Trinidad, Tobagonian and Haitian immigrants. According to the International Federation of Association of Football (FIFA) world rankings, the US is currently ranked #11 out of 203 other countries.
Seminara also doesn’t name all the talented immigrant soccer players who want to play for the US team, but are ineligible. The US National Soccer team has expressed interest in Costa Rican immigrant Rodney Wallace, however, since he is only 20 years old and didn’t start the process to attain citizenship until a few years ago, it’s going to be a while until he’s eligible to play. Sengalese immigrant and soccer player Macoumba Kandji wants to play for the US team, but he was only recently granted asylum status in the US, has no green card, and is years away from being granted citizenship. In Orange County, three high school soccer superstars caught the eye of college recruiters, but the fact that they are undocumented immigrants means that they have no chance of getting a sports scholarship, let alone playing for the national team despite the fact that they “were coached and groomed in the US.”
Meanwhile, at the local level, a nationwide crackdown on immigration has shrunk some area’s “entrenched Hispanic soccer leagues.” In Prince William County, VA, immigrant players and fans stopped coming to games out of fear of being picked up or intimidated by local police who have been granted the power to enforce immigration laws through a controversial program known as 287(g).
CIS actually promotes even tighter restrictions on legal immigration and has proposed policies that support the deportation of the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US.
Andrea Christina Nill