Immigrants Want to Learn English

Bill Binnie is a multimillionaire New Hampshire businessman running for U.S. Senate. Born in Scotland, he came to this country at the age of 5 and eventually became a naturalized citizen.  In an AP article Senate hopeful in N.H. fuels immigration debate written by Norma Love, Mr. Binnie is characterized as a social moderate, which does not sit well with New Hampshire voters.  Binnie is against the Arizona immigration law, even though New Hampshire residents overwhelming favor it.  He believes that only the federal government has the right to enforce immigration laws. In an attempt to prove he’s tough on immigrants in a state that is 95% white, he’s launched a campaign to make English the official language of the U.S. so that immigrants have to learn it.  “…it’s the language of America.  As a US senator, I’ll insist that all immigrants learn English”, he said in a recent campaign advertisement in a classroom full of white school-aged children.

Here’s my problem with this position.  English is the language predominantly spoken in the country and is by default the national language.  There’s no need to make it official.  And English is not the only language of importance. Children need to study other languages and in fact are encouraged if not required to do so in some high schools.  For those who go on to college – and many kids in New Hampshire will, the study of a foreign language will be a graduation requirement. If you doubt this, have a look at the graduation requirements at the University of New Hampshire, and Dartmouth.  The point is that learning a language other than English is universally considered to be a valuable skill for an educated person to have for obvious reasons too numerous to mention.

Second, immigrants want to learn English.  Thousands of adults are on waiting lists for openings in English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes.  In Massachusetts, upwards of 20,000 adults will wait up to two years to take a class.  I agree with Binnie that the government should provide more resources to help immigrants learn English.  However, I disagree with his suggestion that to speak a language other than English in this country is somehow being disloyal to the flag. We are a nation of immigrants, one founded on the principal of tolerance and respect.  Are we to be suspicious of college graduates who speak multiple languages.  Should we put polyglots on a no fly list?

Third, what does it matter to New Hampshire residents anyway?  Is there a huge problem with Latinos speaking Spanish in New Hampshire? It couldn’t be too big of a problem because there are only an estimated 33,000 in a state with a population of 1.3 million.  For those who have a problem with Spanish, why not learn it?

Last, isn’t New Hampshire the “live free or die state?”  This is the state with no income taxes.  I would think the good people of New Hampshire would rather live without the government requiring something that is not even necessary.  English is the dominant language in the country, so there’s no need to make it official with some sort of silly proclamation.  Furthermore, there’s no need to insist that immigrants learn English, because they want to learn it.  If I were Binnie, I would insist that the government provide the states adequate funding for adult education programs.  In Massachusetts that’d be about 200 million dollars a year.

In Support of the Undocumented

Let me start by saying the Arizona law is just stupid, invites racial profiling and is probably unconstitutional.  It’s bad for Arizona and bad for the country as other states try to take matters into their own hands like vigilantes.  Building walls won’t stem the flow of the undocumented across the borders.  Deportation won’t help – people will come back.   Incarceration makes little sense.  Jails are overcrowded as it is.

The solution is comprehensive immigration reform.  But hear me out.  I’m not just throwing down talking points.  My idea of immigration reform is simple.  Tear down the walls.  Open the borders.  Let anyone who wants to work cross, for a fee of course.  Let the states get the money the border crosser would have had to pay a “coyote”.   No criminals.  No drugs.  No guns.   Think of the border like an airport.  You have to purchase a ticket to get in.  Get searched.  Have bags x-rayed.  Even random body scans.  We have the technology.  Why not put it to use?  Once here, the now documented immigrant would have to have a sponsor and be required to get a job within a certain period of time.   Families welcome as long as they have some means of support.  As documented immigrants, they’d be free to travel to whatever state they like for work.   This would take the burden off the border states.  Don’t think that all border crossers want to live in California, Arizona and Texas.  Maine is nice, Arkansas too.  Montana is big.  Florida has great weather, South Carolina nice beaches.   Massachusetts has lots of history; Idaho lots of potatoes – Jersey is a garden paradise with the Big Apple just across the way.

Now there would have to be a quota system.  A certain number per year.  It couldn’t be just a mad rush across the border.  Also, those currently living in the states without papers would have a chance to adjust their status.  They’d have to show they can support their family or have a sponsor.  They’d have to pass a criminal background check too, and pay a fee.

Legalizing takes the criminal element of smuggling out of the equation.  It keeps people from taking dangerous risks, often ending in death, to get across the border undetected.  And I’d go one step further.  Legalize pot.  Tax it like cigarettes and alcohol.   This would take a chunk of the market out of the hands of the drug cartels.  Reduce the demand in the U.S. for hard drugs like heroin and cocaine with intensive drug education campaigns and expanded treatment programs for addicts.   Lets put the drug cartels out of business.

One thing to remember.  Undocumented immigrants are here and here to stay.  It would be impossible to find and deport them all.  In fact, it would damage our country irreparably.  We are a nation of immigrants, not just of some immigrants or the right immigrants.  And don’t forget that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes.  They do buy food, pay rent, shop at local businesses, work the fields, clean buildings and hotels, bus tables, care for children, work construction.  And many who perform unskilled labor every day are doctors, engineers, architects and entrepreneurs in their native country and would thrive here and contribute tremendously to society if given the chance.   And they do pay sales taxes, property taxes, tolls, parking tickets and a great many pay income tax with a tax identification number. Immigrants also send money back to their families helping to keep their native countries economically stable.  Children of immigrants, many of whom are high school valedictorians are being denied a chance at higher education.  A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.

We are a big nation, a nation of immigrants.  There’s room for all who want to work and live the American dream.