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Hef's playmate hops across border

Americans are a bit schizophrenic on the matter of immigration this election season.

We can't seem to decide whether we want to send them all back where they came from or put the child of immigrants on the Republican ticket for president. (For the record, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio calls his Cuban parents "exiles," not "immigrants," although they left before Fidel Castro took over.)

In the midst of this volatile conversation — are we going to build a wall along the Mexican border or simply ask everybody in the American Southwest to carry papers? — comes news that Playboy magazine's Miss November 2010 has been issued a special visa generally reserved for "geniuses."

Shera Bechard can now stay here for three years on her O-1 visa, which can be renewed indefinitely, although she could have just as easily invoked the Justin Bieber immigration clause (she's from Canada).

The O-1 visa is one of a group of immigration exceptions most often employed by Silicon Valley when it wants to import foreign brain power.

And technically, Ms. Bechard qualifies. She created a Twitter event called "Frisky Friday." Lovely young women like herself post naughty pictures of themselves on Twitter on Fridays, and Playboy picks a winner each week. Not exactly Google Earth, but hey.

The eligibility requirement for this visa states: "The individual must possess skills that are extraordinary within the field of sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or within the field of motion picture or television industry."

The applicant must document "extraordinary ability," which means "distinction demonstrated by a high level of achievement." And the applicant must have "risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."

British media personality Piers Morgan, for example, received an O-1 visa when he replaced Larry King on CNN, but I am guessing Ms. Bechard's extraordinary skills are more privately known. She was Mr. Hefner's rebound romance after Chrystal Harris left him at the altar. I don't know. Maybe he gave her a letter of recommendation.

She was represented by Los Angeles immigration lawyer Chris Wright, himself an immigrant from South Africa, who is the go-to visa lawyer for Hollywood and the California tech industry. And he took umbrage that the qualifications of his client to work in the United States should come under such snickering scrutiny.

"There is nothing in those regulations that requires you to be a 'genius,'" Mr. Wright told reporters. (Although in fact, the O-1 is often referred to as the "genius visa.")

"It's quite condescending to say, 'Oh, the idiot Playboy Playmates, they don't qualify.'"

Condescension? More like exasperation. We can't decide what to do with the children of illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as unknowing youngsters — though they better be in college or otherwise achieving if they want a shot at staying here.

But we'll roll out the welcome mat for the pretty blond from Canada.

There is no cap on the number of O-1 visas the U.S. government can grant. About 12,200 were issued in 2011, up from about 9,000 in 2006.

Here's an idea.

Why not extend one to each of the thousands of immigrants who have the extraordinary ability to do the jobs Americans don't want to do — say, harvesting crops or day labor or working in slaughterhouses, doing yard work or working in restaurant kitchens — and let the pretty blonds sneak across the Canadian border.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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