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The focus is on those with dark skins and Spanish accents. What about all the illegal immigrants from Canada and western Europe?
Animosity against foreigners &mdash the "others" — is not new. Xenophobia has been the cause of wars in ancient and modern times.
In the United States, the nativist Know-Nothing political party (active 1849 to about 1860) elected state governors and members of Congress and even carried one state in the Presidential election of 1856 — all on a platform of excluding Irish and Italian immigrants. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, excluding immigrants from China. In 1907, an agreement between the U.S. and Japan provided that the Japanese government would not issue passports to Japanese laborers intending to enter the U.S.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Amendment 14, Section 1
My grandparents entered the U.S. near the beginning of the 20th century under circumstances that would be considered illegal immigration today. Under certain proposals to deny citizenship to children of immigrants by changing the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, my parents (born in Chicago) and I (born in California) could have been stateless since the countries where my grandparents were born would not recognize us as citizens there.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus, 1883
The House of Representatives passed legislation to criminalize being an illegal immigrant — to make them felons subject to imprisonment. Also, a doctor who treats an ill person who is an illegal immigrant might be charged with a crime. So would a priest whose rescue mission gives a meal to an illegal immigrant.
But where is the criminal penalty against those employers who hire illegal immigrants? Petty fines have become merely part of the cost of doing business for such employers. Send a few restaurant owners and hotel executives to prison for hiring illegal immigrants. That would discourage such hiring and thus discourage such immigration.
The "Day without Immigrants" on 1 May showed the rest of us the multitude of those who strongly object to the nativism prevailing in the House of Representatives. Not only Hispanics, but also Asians and others participated. Further, many businesses not only cooperated but even supported the demonstrators by shutting down.
However, the true importance of immigrants in our society would better be shown by a full week for immigrants boycotting our national economy. This should not be a week of demonstrations. Instead, it should be a week in which all immigrants — legal and illegal, those who have become citizens and those who are merely residents — stay home, without working or shopping. This might have sufficient economic impact on our nation to change how Congress addresses the issue.
On the other hand, student demonstrations in the street will be counter-productive. In the long run, the battle for immigrant rights will be won by those who stay in school, learn, and become successful as adults.
More important, students in high school are nearing the age of 18. If they are citizens, they must register and vote when they reach that magic age. They must make sure their relatives, neighbors, and friends who are citizens also vote. A demonstration in the ballot box will prove far more successful than any demonstration in the streets.
Well, they look pretty undocumented to me.
One special complaint by nativists is the fact that many immigrants fail to learn the English language. I live in California, where Spanish and Russian were spoken well before English. Some Hispanics have ancestry that have lived for generations in parts of the U.S. from before the American Revolution. More have ancestors who lived in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas before they were part of the United States.
Other languages were spoken in the U.S. before English. Dutch was the language of early New York, and Swedish was spoken before English in Delaware. French was spoken in Louisiana before English and is still heard in rural parts of that state. And before the nativist's ancestors immigrated here, Native American languages were known for thousands of years.
My own grandparents were never comfortable speaking English. My maternal grandmother was from Hungary, and my maternal grandfather was from the Baltic region. At home, they spoke the only language in common to both of them, Yiddish. My parents (born in the U.S.) grew up understanding Yiddish but never taught the language to my brother or me. When I grew up, Yiddish was reserved by my parents for gossiping without letting my brother and me knowing what they were saying. This process is observed today in many families; by the third generation, children grow up speaking English without any real understanding of their grandparents' native language. The nativists have too little patience. They want foreign-born adults to be fluent in English despite the facts that English is one of the hardest languages to learn and that learning any language is difficult for adults.
Yes, it is important for all residents of the United States to speak English if they wish to succeed in business, politics, or the general society. However, nativist demands to make English the sole official language of our nation is wrong. Who would define what English is? I would hope that authority would not fall to either politicians or bureaucrats, both of whom badly mangle English. Given the large-scale borrowing from other languages, how can the English language be defined? Would all the Spanish place-names across the south-west have to be renamed? Do we really want a Language Police or laws punishing those who do not use English?
8 May 2006
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