Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We got into a discussion here about immigration in the comments a couple of weeks ago. With a new round of immigration protests yesterday, it seems like a good time to revisit some of those comments, since similar statements are being launched across dinner and restaurant tables and around water coolers all over the country today.

Here's one: "Immigrating into the USA is sort of like becoming a season ticket holder at Lambeau Field for the Packers. You're put on a list and it might take years and years. Does that mean we should be allowed to crash the gates if it isn't fast enough for our liking? Try it and see how far you get."

Never mind the fact that our current immigration laws are essentially punitive in their molasses-like pace, and that it can take legal immigrants just short of forever to get in. The fact is that lots of people crash the gates every year, and that many of them are a lot more dangerous than the masses being demonized these days. Steve Gilliard at the News Blog:
Here's what I don't get, [Congressmen James] Sensenbrenner and [Tom] Tancredo want to turn law abiding residents into criminals, but remain mute about the Russian mafia, coyotes, MS-13 and snakeheads, people who really violate US law, create victims in the US and overseas,and are criminals.

The mexican guy who makes my pizza is not a threat, the coyotes on the border are.
Many of those opposed to draconian restrictions on immigrants from Latin America are not favoring open immigration for all. They'd merely like to see immigration laws enforced in a way that solves real problems--not by building walls, not by criminalizing the simple act of being here or helping those who are, but by addressing the actual root causes of real, solvable problems, instead of posturing.

Also on the subject of "illegals": "I have no problem with Mexicas, Cubans, Argentines, or anybody wanting to move to this country and start a new life...as long as it is done LEGALLY."

Nothing turns Americans into by-the-book law-abiders faster than the subject of immigration--"goddammit, those people should follow the law." Gilliard responds:
These people [immigrants] want to be Americans like the people who came here to Ellis Island. We need to stop hiding behind the excuse that they "broke the law". People gamble online and they "break the law" and no one is jailing them.
Contrary to popular belief, the legal system has operated selectively in this country since approximately 1607. We've always been selective in which laws we enforce, and in how we enforce them. And it's very popular to claim we should be cracking down on immigrants, who are among the least able to defend themselves within the legal system.

On the subject of assimilation, then and now: "[My immigrant forebears] worked hard to assimilate into the American culture and they certainly did not expect everyone else to learn their language."

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez (who started the fun here a couple of weeks ago when I linked to her post on distorted media portrayals of the immigrant protests) put up another great post last week, which you should read in its entirety. She said this about the language issue:
The Pew Center for Hispanic research shows that by the third generation all immigrant grandchildren – NO MATTER WHERE THEY ARE FROM OR THE LEGAL STATUS OF THEIR ANCESTORS – are COMPLETELY ASSIMILATED ENGLISH SPEAKERS.

There is not a single third-generation Hispanic in the United States whose primary or dominant language is Spanish. NOT ONE.

This is precisely the same assimilation pattern followed by the Germans, Italians, French and every other linguistic minority immigrant group to this nation.
People who criticize immigrants for speaking their native languages "too long" seem to think that you can learn to speak English like a native in six months--but as another commenter to my original post noted, it can actually take up to seven years, and that's if new speakers are taught systematically in school.

Valdes-Rodriguez's point about language acquisition also speaks to a quote by Teddy Roosevelt that's been requoted and reprinted in lots of places recently, including in the comments here:
There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile...We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language...and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.
Far too much has been made of immigrants waving Mexican flags during protests. What else is someone who takes pride in his roots supposed to wave? Hell, various bloggers dug up footage of Jeb Bush, who is as Mexican as I am, waving the Mexican flag during one of his election campaigns. (Or maybe it was a Cuban flag. Either way, it makes my point.)

But there's a broader issue here. Once immigrants have the chance to assimilate--once they're given the time it requires, time that can't be shortened by Republican legislative fiat or wishful thinking (which are so often the same thing), they, too become loyal Americans. And some demonstrate their loyalty in far more meaningful ways than yammering from behind a keyboard. (I count myself amongst the yammerers, so don't take that personally.) A Korean immigrant who had come here legally wanted to do something to speed his citizenship, so he volunteered to serve in Iraq--and in February, he got killed. Our country is the only one in the world that inspires people to do things like this. Whether you think the Iraq War is right or wrong doesn't matter this time--how many people born in America would have done the same thing for another country?

Quote of the Day: J.B. Van Hollen is a Repug candidate for Wisconsin attorney general. Yesterday, both the incumbent Democrat AG, Peg Lautenschlager, and her primary opponent, Kathleen Falk, spoke to the immigration rally held in Madison. Pull the string on Van Hollen's back, and what he says is predictable: "Attending a rally that celebrates granting rights to those who break the law is absolutely ludicrous. As Attorney General, I will fight crime and restore integrity to the office. I will not celebrate lawlessness." Yep, whenever an issue is too complicated for effective demagoguery, you can count on the GOP to ride to the rescue.

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