Immigration lawmakers try to pick winners and losers. The problem is that just like a broken analog clock with its hands frozen in place, the timing is mostly wrong.

This brings me to one of my pet peeves. It bothers me that the immigration laws and agency regulations favor some fields of study and disfavor others. Why for example are students in the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) given 27 months of “optional practical training” — a euphemism for work permission — while liberal arts students get only 12 months? Do Congress and the immigration agencies think we have too many poets, philosophers, filmmakers, painters and writers? Has the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)sifted the data and concluded that there is a surfeit of linguists, social workers and ethicists? You wouldn’t think so from BLS publications.

For that matter, how do politicians and bureaucrats know whether a bachelor’s degree is the right level of education for new labor-market entrants to serve America’s present and future needs? The short answer is they don’t.

Thirty-one days ago, before the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico, few would have predicted that oil-spill clean-up workers would be in high demand. Fewer still could have predicted that a silver-tongued college graduate who majored in poli-sci, the son of a Kenyan immigrant, would become the leader of the free world. American lawmakers and agency officials are simply no better than the Soviet commissars who thought, wrongly it turned out, that they could direct a planned national economy.

Two recent articles, “Why Liberal Education Matters,” by Peter Berkowitz, and “Plan B: Skip College,” by Jacques Steinberg, illustrate my points.

Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and co-chair of a task force on the virtues of a free society, extols the societal contributions of liberal-arts students:

How can one think independently about what kind of life to live without acquiring familiarity with the ideas about happiness and misery, exaltation and despair, nobility and baseness that study of literature, philosophy and religion bring to life? How can one pass reasoned judgment on public policy if one is ignorant of the principles of constitutional government, the operation of the market, the impact of society on perception and belief and, not least, the competing opinions about justice to which democracy in America is heir?

How can one properly evaluate America’s place in the international order without an appreciation of the history of the rise and fall of nations, and that familiarity with allies and adversaries that comes from serious study of their languages, cultures and beliefs?

Steinberg — a New York Times education writer — takes a different tack, suggesting that we short-change our youth, while saddling them with long-term debt, by failing to recognize that for many of them specialized training and vocational apprenticeship may be far more valuable:

The idea that four years of higher education will translate into a better job, higher earnings and a happier life — a refrain sure to be repeated this month at graduation ceremonies across the country — has been pounded into the heads of schoolchildren, parents and educators. But there’s an underside to that conventional wisdom. . . .

“It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago,” said [Economics] Professor [Richard K.] Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. “But the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’ aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the next decade.”. . .

College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.

My point is not to jettison thoughtfulness when trying to fashion new immigration laws that will best suit our 21st Century needs. Rather, what a wonderful world it would be, I believe, if our lawmakers and immigration bureaucrats adopted a bit of Sam Cooke humility:

Don’t know much about history

Don’t know much biology

Don’t know much about a science book

Don’t know much about the French [we] took . . .

Don’t know much about geography

Don’t know much trigonometry

Don’t know much about algebra

If not a wonderful world, then certainly a better nation America would be if it provided the flex in our legal system to make room in this country for bright, hard-working, well-educated or suitably-trained immigrants to serve our economic, political, cultural and societal needs in future decades.