the powder keg that didn’t explode

Brent Finnegan -- March 30th, 2007

The meeting organized by members of the Minutemen was packed tonight. I counted at least 175 local conservatives, liberals, college students, anarchists, rednecks, activists, and Latinos packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the sweltering hot conference room at the Ramada. If you showed up after 7, it was standing room only.

As the five member panel took their seats, you could have cut the political tension with a knife. George Taplin of the Minutemen, Joyce Muncci of FAIR, Sam Nickels of New Bridges, William Buchanan of ANCIR, and Rick Castaneda of the Hispanic Services Council got up to speak. One by one they explained problems, presented evidence, and made their cases for and against cracking down on illegal immigration. Castaneda’s speech, appealing to peoples’ consciences, won a standing ovation from immigrant sympathizers, who appeared at that point to outnumber the deportation crowd by almost two-to-one.

Castaneda pointed out that all three of the panel members supporting deportation of undocumented immigrants were out-of-towners, while he and Nickels are Harrisonburg residents. It was as if to say, “Who are these outsiders coming to stir things up in our hometown?” That point seemed to strike a chord with many in the room. Taplin kept saying that members of the community asked him to come, but refused to say who. A local named Matt Garner eventually raised his hand and said he was one of the people who requested the visit.

Taplin said he invited every city council and county BoS member in a 30 mile radius, but none replied. In fact, Carolyn Frank was the only elected official that showed up (she and Charlie Chenault were the only council members at the immigration discussion group on March 6th). There were no law enforcement officers there, either. The only policemen I saw were outside, responding to some unrelated incident in the parking lot. Apparently the rest of our elected officials were either scared off by the idea of being associated with what was originally going to be a Minutemen meeting, or they’re all experts on immigration, and don’t want or need input from their constituents.

As the meeting moved into the Q&A and discussion section, the media began to split in order file their stories and meet deadlines (I believe WMRA‘s Martha Woodroof was the only member of the local media that stuck around long after the meeting was over). The tension in the room was no less palpable. I think everyone was wondering if a huge fight was going to erupt at some point. Remarkably, none did. Maybe this is the friendly city after all. Or at least the civil city. For the most part, the panel members did a great job of keeping a lid on the bickering, and keeping the focus on the issues. By no account did the factions agree with each other, but some genuine community dialog and discussion took place in that room tonight.

In a sea of mostly white faces, one Latino woman took a bold step and spoke out in flawless English about her undocumented husband. Every day he goes to work, she lives in fear that her husband won’t make it back to the family, having been nabbed by ICE agents or the police.

George Taplin made several references to his successes in implementing Section 287 (g) in Herndon, just two hours north of here. Essentially it allows local law enforcement to work in conjunction with ICE, and deport illegal immigrants for simply being undocumented (as opposed to deporting them when they are found breaking some other law, as is currently the case in H’burg… well, compared to Herndon, anyway). Taplin’s campaign in his own town of Herndon has resulted in many deportations from immigrant neighborhoods there. At the end of the meeting, he invited interested locals to stick around to discuss starting a grassroots movement to implement 287 (g) in Harrisonburg, modeled after his campaign in Herndon. Several people cheered when Taplin assured everyone he was not trying to start a Harrisonburg chapter of the Minutemen.

The question of the night was: do we as a community want Harrisonburg to be the next Herndon? Since most members of our local government were notably absent from the meeting, it’s unclear which way the wind will blow. But one thing is certain: the wind will blow.

37 Responses to “the powder keg that didn’t explode”

  1. zen says:

    Nice coverage finnegan.

  2. JGFitzgerald says:

    No offense to the reporter — newspaper deadlines are unforgiving — but the discussion about “speakers for and against illegal immigrants” in the DNR coverage of the Minutemaid meeting was what James Kilpatrick once called a reader stop. Kilpatrick, who is unfortunately known more for his 60 Minutes face-offs with Shana Alexander than for his contributions to writing and editing, defined said stop as a construction that makes the reader have to reread or start over.
    So … reboot.
    Many of the anti-immigrant sentiments are based on fear, and that fear is unfounded and unnecessary; however, the idea of a faction that is “for illegal immigrants” helped illustrate how far out of hand this debate has become. There has to be room in this debate for those of us who don’t care one way or another whether our neighbors have their papers. There has to be a role for those of us who got involved in the discussion to keep the fear factions from controlling and winning the debate.
    Illegal immigrants dealing drugs a problem? Let’s give the industry back to the biker gangs where it belongs. Signs in Spanish and English? Don’t read the Spanish side. ESL costing a lot in the schools? Take that up with the Department of Education, which wrote the rules.
    It should be possible to be agnostic on the topic of undocumented immigrants, but the vehemence of the debate is removing that option. That’s what was so annoying about the reference to “speakers for and against illegal immigrants.” It was a reader stop because it looked at first like a malapropism spitting from a reporter’s racing fingers on deadline. But on second read, it looked like it might be accurate.

  3. finnegan says:

    That’s the thing: other than some big business owners and a few bigwigs in the federal government, I can’t think of anyone that’s FOR illegal immigration. The conservatives certainly aren’t. The immigrants themselves don’t like living in fear. Most liberals want them to have status and rights. So there’s only a very small minority of the extremely powerful people in this nation that are “in favor of illegal immigration.”

    I think a lot of people feel the way you do, JGFitzgerald. Same thing with the marriage amendment. What if you simply don’t care one way or the other? Needless to say, the I-don’t-care folks were not present at the meeting last night.

  4. doubletree dan says:

    No, they weren’t because those people don’t exist besides behind the signs that they write. If you are so ignorant to think that you don’t care…wait till you need something that you, as an AMERICAN, cannot get…like emergency care at a local hospital ( but HEY, lets open the borders and allow anyone in).

    Try and explain your ignorance to your children, in Spanish of course

    there are SO many points to make about this 15-29 yrold group it makes me p/o’d to even continue

  5. Alan Elliott says:

    Illegal is illegal no matter how one cuts it. Get documented, get a right to work permit, pay taxes, get a drivers license, obtain insurance and then I am sure there won’t be any more complaints. If a guest worker breaks the law he gets deported…

  6. chriswagler says:

    thanks for your coverage finnegan and fitzgerald, for your insights, i think they are equally as powerful as what has become the debate itself.
    over and over again i felt like a key component of this issue was missing last night and that was the role of the consumer.
    it is not simply big business and politicians who want cheap labor; would the very people who blame these entities be willing to pay extra at the register for their goods in order for workers (americans or non) to get higher wages? the very argument that joyce from fair used “think, what is in it for me…” exemplifies the very ethos that in part makes change too slow in coming. american culture has become obsessed with the wal-mart mentality of overconsumption for the cheap buck and our undocumented labor force provides that to us in so many sectors.
    i also feel that by not addressing the implications that our us foreign policy specifically, nafta & cafta, have on the labor markets and economies both in latin america as well as the us
    misses a key element of what fuels this broken system.
    the biggest difference that i noted last night between the speakers was the ones who were clearly anti immigration/asylum relied on fear and sadly even used images of the burning twin towers from 9-11 to drive their point across to the audience. it makes it so hard to listen to anything someone has to say when it appears they are responding simply on a knee jerk reaction to something they are afraid of…and in turn are determined to scare their audience into believing the same.
    those are just my thoughts as i am still processing all of this….

  7. Lydia says:

    Before I begin, I apologize for my lengthy post …

    I am writing as a naturalized citizen whose parents were refugees, and went through a long process to enter the country LEGALLY. They had to wait (5 years!) and PROVE that we would be an asset to the country. I care for immigrants, and I understand that the US needs immigration reform.

    No country can open its borders and allow itself to be flooded by persons seeking a better life, access to services, etc., without requiring that they first earn some of these benefits, which are not rights, but privileges.

    Our resources are not unlimited, therefore, we need an intelligent, compassionate, well-thought out policy on who will be permitted to enter the US, and under what circumstances. At the same time we must not allow ourselves to become Xenophobic and bigoted, turning on anyone who is not born in the US. America is a land of immigrants; we are who we are today — because of immigration!

    Any person requesting to enter the US must have a FULL background check. We have enough criminals of our own.

    They should also be given a clean bill of health (as my family was), so that health care is not an issue. (We have millions of working Americans without health insurance, who cannot afford healthcare!) Our elderly are struggling to meet the costs not covered by Medicare.

    Refugee status should be verified; ability to work and provide for oneself should be a must. Those who are unable to work should be cared for by family who is working.

    Furthermore, they should have some skill or ability, leading to gainful employment, providing a needed service or profession that is beneficial to the US. My mother was a nurse, my dad an engineer. My father immediately went to work, a week after we arrived, with all arrangements being made by a local church. It wasn’t the best job, and he was underpaid, but it was honest and it paid the bills. Housing was provided briefly, until my family was able to meet all expenses. After a year, my parents were buying a home, through hard work. This is what the “American Dream” was all about at that time.

    The greatest irritation for many Americans is knowing that they cannot afford health care, then seeing immigrants receiving free care at the health department. Or, knowing that their elderly parents receive the same pension (after having worked and paid taxes all their lives) as the elderly immigrants who never worked or paid any taxes into the system. Many Americans face the prospect that Social Security, which they’ve paid into, will be depleted when they’re of retirement age. These situations all create hostility and resentment.

    It is not the fault of the immigrant families receiving the benefits, but that of a flawed immigration policy. One has to balance compassion with wisdom, develop good fiscal policy, and provide benefits according to willingness and ability to pay and work.

    The Valley NEEDS immigrant labor, being a rural community with agriculture a major employer. Some may try to exploit illegal workers, knowing they fear discovery. Many work for wages an American worker would not consider because it’s still better than what they could earn in their home country. These are hard working folks, who just want to make life better for those they love. Often desperation leads to their illegal entry into the US.

    We can and must find a way to balance our needs with the needs of those coming to our shores. Legal immigration, with safeguards in place, are in all our interest. It will take some real thinking and hard work to develop a policy that is fair to immigrants, and to their hosts, to relieve some of the tensions surrounding this issue.

    Again, I apologize for the length of my post.

  8. chriswagler says:

    one more thing…..i submitted a question last night asking joyce from fair to explain/justify the role that groups like the pioneer fund and the council of conservative citizens have since they contribute significant amounts of money to fair. both of these groups are considered hate groups by the southern poverty law center, which gained no credibility with joyce.
    however, she stated that she did not know where the money to fair came from and that she didn’t even know what the pioneer fund was…
    the pioneer fund financially backed prop 187 in california in the mid 90’s. the very legislation that is thought by many to have started the shift in immigration policy to the far right. fair was also very involved in promoting/supporting prop 187.
    here is a link that gives a more concise background than i can give as it seems as i am rambeling.
    it is from fairness and accuracy in reporting. (too many fairs!)
    my main point in all of this is i don’t believe joyce that she does not know who the pioneer fund is. or that fair as a whole doesn’t know where they get their money from. the pioneer fund is one of and have been (according to the IRS) the primary funding sources to fair and to prop 187. anyone who is anti “illegal” immigration and is working with fair knows this. i am extremely skeptical that she does not know the connections. prop 187 was when their (fair) momentum really started and they in effect (or in reality depending who you cite) began writing the new immigration legislation we still have on the books today.

    the fact that fair has links to groups that promote supremacy of a race over others should raise huge concerns for all involved on both sides of the issue.
    let it also be noted that the southern poverty law center is not the only group that has research on them.

  9. Deb SF says:

    Relevant to the topic of immigration in the valley comes an article from the 3.31.07 issue of The Economist titled “ Immigration in California: Escape from LA”. According to the piece, just under 1 million undocumented folks live in LA, twice as many as any other urban metropolis. The number many have peaked, according to the Urban Institute, which estimates that during the period 2002-2004, LA lost more than 15,000 illicit residents. During that same period, the US is estimated to have added more than 1 million.

    The article makes the case that the reason that undocumented workers leave an area is for the same reason that other workers do; push factors (like the high cost of living) and pull factors (like better jobs elsewhere). While noting that the disappearance of illegals is good news in a lot of ways (pressure comes off public services, easier for documented workers to move into the middle class, etc.) these lines caught my eye:

    “Illegal immigrants are the canaries in the economic coal mine, sensitive to the slightest changes in the job market. Their presence in a city may cause problems, but their departure suggests that a place is losing some if its economic dynamism. After all, most cities, if they could choose, should rather have San Bernardino’s problems than Harlem’s.”

  10. doubletree dan says:

    although growing up in a negative atmosphere like i have, i will admit if americans would have an option to low income/healthy housing, they would take those jobs that immigrant take. but for whatever reason, american landlords and the poweres that be refuse to allow a family to live at a reasonable price. When we sell a 4 br house in PA for 57,000 and have to buy one here for 188,000 that spells nothing but disaster.

  11. Daytonres says:

    If I were you and your parents Lydia, an illegal immigrant would make my blood boil. I’d think how my parents struggled through the five year process of becoming documented and doing it the “right way.” It would make me mad as heck to watch someone else slip through a crack in the wall and enjoy similar success for which my parents had to work so hard to achieve.

    I think we all agree that immigration policy in the U-S needs major reform, but it is the current policy. How many people get stopped every day for speeding? Applying the same logic that many use to justify illegal immigration, tickets should be torn up because obviously the speed limits need adjusting. See how rediculous that is? Here’s a better one, I once got a speeding ticket on I-95 near DC. Two weeks later they raised the speed limit 10 mph (from 55 to 65), but it didn’t change my ticket. I argued that my infraction was for going a mere four miles over the new speed limit. The judge told me that would be great if that was the speed limit the day I was caught. Catch my drift yet? The law/policy is flawed, but it’s still the law and until it’s changed groups that spew hate or speak out against undocumented immigrants will have a foot to stand on.

    The whole economic impact and cheaper products thing doesn’t hold water. How quickly have we been conditioned to think that 1.99 is the best price ever for gasoline? That’s still a more than 100% increase over what it was seven years ago. If my ground beef costs an extra 20 cents a pound, somehow I think I’ll live with it and for some reason I’ll learn to not even think about it after a while. If a few things drop off the dollar menu at McDonald’s, I think we’ll all get along and maybe even get skinnier.

    All that said, illegal immigrants are better patriots than many so called American’s. People tell me every day what a terrible government we have and how everything is either a conspiracy or big business taking advantage of us. God bless the illegal, he/she still sees the U-S as the land of opportunity and by hook or by crook he/she will get here and get a piece of it. God bless every immigrant, legal or illegal for believing that life here in the good old US of A ain’t so bad. For those of you that don’t…I hear Canada’s thawing out this time of year.

  12. Lydia says:

    Daytonres: I do get mad, and I speak out, very candidly ;) ! I had a recent conversation with a young lady who was complaining that her grandparents were getting “only $600 per month; how are they expected to live on that amount”? I asked her if they’d worked in the US at all, and how long they’d lived here. She said “No, they never worked here, and they just got here less than a year ago. They can’t work, they’re too old.”

    After speaking to her a bit more, I found out that they were also living in subsidized housing, receiving Medicaid, and a small amount of food stamps. Their furniture and household goods had been donated by a local church, as well as clothing and other goods for the family.

    I asked her what would happen if I went to her former country, decided to stay, and after not working even a year, (let alone a day), was unable to work reaching retirement age — would I be eligible for any sort of assistance and a pension? She said, “No, of course not, you have to work at least (X number of ) years before you qualify, and even then it’s hard.”

    I told her very bluntly, “America is a wonderful, compassionate nation. instead of complaining that your grandparents get ONLY $600 per month, from a system they NEVER paid into, from taxes they NEVER contributed, they and she, should be extremely grateful and appreciative. I told her I was outraged that she felt they were entitled to more, when they hadn’t earned what they were already getting.

    She was stunned, and looked extremely embarrassed, and then said, “Well, when you put it that way, I guess it’s wrong”! I again said, “yes it is, and you should be ashamed of yourself for even complaining like this. Such ingratitude”!

    Some folks need a “consciousness raising”, a little information, and thought provoking dialogue! For me, as an immigrant, it is easier to do this … I cannot be accused of being “against immigrants, or Xenophobic”, I AM an immigrant, and I have earned my place in this society. I have worked hard, paid my taxes, learned the language, gotten an education, and become a productive citizen of this country. I still speak, read and write my native language, but I also made a point of not only learning English, but excelling in it. Communication is the key to opening doors of opportunity!

    I am especially troubled by a trend of some foreigners who refuse to learn English, and require government documents, and other papers to be printed in their language. I know of one person who has lived and worked (Legally) in the US for 17 years, and requires a translator.! That is simply ridiculous. It is critical that anyone living in the US, and aspiring to naturalization, be REQUIRED to learn English.

    I’m not talking about “perfect” English, but a basic knowledge. If I’m not mistaken, it was a requirement before getting a “green card” when my parents first emigrated to the US. Now, I have heard that some naturalization ceremonies have been translated into other languages.

    I hope this is just a rumor! GIVE ME A BREAK!

  13. finnegan says:

    Martha’s report is online if you want to listen to it. She estimates there were 200 plus people in attendance. The DNR said “over 100.”

    Also, there’s a related story in today’s Washington Times.

  14. doubletree dan says:

    Has anyone else watched this…?????

  15. Barnabas says:

    doubletree dan –
    Good video with some good points.
    I like that he didn’t take the ignorant stance that all immigration was bad or that all the mexicans should go be sent back. Thats the kind of argument against immigration that makes sense.
    But one thing he didn’t seem to touch on was undocumented immigration.
    He deffinitly spinned the numbers his way, but still made good points.

  16. eso says:

    I’m going to reply to some of the point individually, but it’s wrong to call them “Illegal Immigrants”. That’s an oxymoron. Immigration is a legal, orderly process. This is an invasion. Or perhaps a colonization. Giving birth to children here so the children gain citizenship here and can sponsor more family here.

  17. eso says:

    My heart broke for the very young looking Latino ( Latina ? ) who spoke about her love, longing, and concern for her undocumented husband. But if you listened to what she said, it was just
    ” I know my husband is a criminal, but I don’t want him punished or deported. I knew he wasn’t a citizen when I made the choice to marry him, but I did anyway and I made the choice to have kids with him, but now I’m going to plead that it will break up our family.”
    When I hear her talk I feel very sympathetic, because those are strong emotions and we don’t entirely choose who we love. If it was just her, I would say maybe we can make an exception. But there are millions of families like that. You just can’t let that many in. And as soon as you would, you would encourage more to break the law so they can be here for the next amnesty.

  18. eso says:

    Mr Taplin repeatedly stressed the federal-local partnership discussed does not attempt to “round up” door-to-door or otherwise attempt to go looking for illegals. It merely investigates the ones they run across during routine law enforcement. It sounds like a very modest proposal. Local cops can already turn over the investigation of suspected illegals to ICE, but don’t routinely because they are often already out on bail before the federal officials can get here to examine them. They then promptly disappear. You make it sound like it’s a bad thing that they’ve deported criminals in Herndon. It’s what they should be doing and if the federal government doesn’t we need to assist it in any way we can.

  19. Deb SF says:

    For anyone interested, the latest data on Hispanic immigration is here,

    concluding is that Hispanics are following traditional immigration patterns and do not represent an outlier.

    From the abstract: Samuel Huntington argued that the sheer number, concentration, linguistic homogeneity, and other characteristic of Hispanic immigrants will erode the dominance of English as a nationally unifying language, weaken the country’s dominant cultural values, and promote ethnic allegiances over a primary identification as an American. Testing these hypotheses with data from the U.S. Census and national and Los Angeles opinion surveys, we show that Hispanics acquire English and lose Spanish rapidly beginning with the second generation, and appear to be no more or less religious or committed to the work ethic than native-born whites. Moreover, a clear majority of Hispanics reject a purely ethnic identification and patriotism grows from one generation to the next. At present, a traditional pattern of political assimilation appears to prevail.

  20. eso says:

    One thing the writer didn’t mention was the strong round of applause one resident got ,when he said he didn’t want this country to become Spanish speaking, [ gang infested I think he said ?? ] and corrupt like every Central American or Latin America country. — that’s paraphrased but the gist of it.

    What got me was when one teenage Hispanic jumped up absolutely shocked and puzzled. “What’s wrong with Spanish”, he blurted? “45% of big city residents speak Spanish.”
    Nothing is wrong with Spanish, if you live in Mexico! Don’t invade our country then expect us to cater to your language! And he was utterly shocked that Americans didn’t want to have to learn Spanish in our own country.

  21. eso says:

    Businesses get a lot of blame. Rightfully so, because are only concerned about shareholder value and/or the bottom line.

    But if a business owner wanted to verify legal status, could s/he actually do it? Yes, they have to request proof of citizenship and identity now ( usually social security card and drivers license, but other documents can be used like a passport). But anybody with a computer now days can print out a social security card. The drivers license can be obtained from birth certificate which can be copied from records.

    So if a business owner actually wanted to hire citizens, is there any way he could tell? Is there a system in place where he, say, could enter the name and ssn in a computer program. The program matches them against each other, checks the identity hasn’t been reported stolen, and/or is working at multiple widely separated areas? I don’t know that there is any such program.

    And, one of complaints was that the DNR calls up ICE and checks to see if any accused criminal in the local news is illegal. Now, in our system the press is separate from government, and reporters are private citizens who don’t have any special access to government information(baring leaks). So, does that mean any citizen can call up and ask ICE if so & so is a citizen or illegal?

  22. finnegan says:

    Deb: yeah, I remember reading Huntington in college, and I also remember his “Clash of Civilizations” theory as being widely regarded by sociologists as rubbish. It’s like Huntington wants the worst, he preaches doom, but in the end, there is little evidence to back up his theories.

  23. Deb SF says:

    Brent, I hadn’t thought about Huntington for awhile either until, preparing for a JMU LLL class on economic and cultural globalization that I’m teaching this spring, I re-found his Clash paper. My LLL students (average age 72) were much less worried about the current immigration controversy that I had expected. This group has lived all over the country, travelled extensively, and they’ve seen these worries and fears resurface often. To them, this sounds like déjà vu all over again. The point many of them made in our discussion was about the overwhelming dominance of US culture on a global scale, and this paper reinforces that. We may have a huge trade imbalance, but geez, do we export ideas, movies, music, words, language, food, fashion, etc., at a rate that scares some of the rest of the world.

    Heh. We’re the Borg; you WILL be assimilated. Even, apparently, if you’re a Mexican Hispanic.

  24. Gxeremio says:

    I don’t know of anyone being “forced” to learn Spanish, but I know plenty of people being forced to learn English to pass mandated state tests, graduate high school, get a driver’s license, and become US citizens!

    Businesses *choose* to use Spanish advertisements and hire bilingual employees because they can make more money that way, not because anyone is forcing them to.

    If you don’t want to make money from the huge Spanish-speaking market, fine. But don’t make it sound bad that other people do.

    The whole line of argument, “don’t expect us to cater to your language” is especially funny when you see how American tourists are when they travel abroad. I’m in French-speaking Quebec this week, and am enjoying practicing my French, but boy is it nice when I don’t know the words and someone can help me in my native language English. My wife doesn’t speak French at all and so if no one here helped her out in English she’d be totally helpless. If they said “Don’t expect us to cater to your language” when we were trying to buy something, or find out key information, I would think they were really insensitive and rude, and more than that I would think them stupid for missing out on a potential sale.

  25. Lydia says:

    Gxeremio said: “I don’t know of anyone being “forced” to learn Spanish, but I know plenty of people being forced to learn English to pass mandated state tests, graduate high school, get a driver’s license, and become US citizens!”

    I’m not sure “forced” is the correct word, as no one is “forced”, but to EARN certain privileges, like US citizenship – which opens many doors of opportunity — or education, or the privilege of driving, earning a living, etc., … all these “REQUIRE” a knowledge of English.

    On the other hand, the trend to have all official State and Federal documents and forms printed in Spanish — a relatively new trend, I might add — does not help immigrants assimilate into American society, and creates a negative impression, i.e., “these people cannot or will not learn English, so we have to spend taxpayer money to translate documents into “their” language” … even though these documents and forms are used to acquire certain benefits — social services, social security, medical care, education, employment, etc.

    This impression can not and does not bring positive results.

    Again, when I came to the US, NOTHING was translated into my parents’ native language, and there was no ESL curriculum. You went to school and LEARNED, by total immersion. No one stopped you from keeping your native language and culture, but no one catered to you either. The understanding was, that it was to YOUR benefit to learn English, and thrive in your new found country and culture … to become an American.

    I got the day off from school when we became naturalized citizens, and came back the next day, proud to be an AMERICAN. No hypenated “Russian-American, or Mexican-American” — just American!

  26. zen says:

    The question that I find so often absent from the immigration debate is why are there jobs that Americans will not do? What is it about the types of jobs that we need immigrant labor for that make capable Americans unwilling to perform?
    Is it that these jobs pay so little and offer no benefits?

  27. Gxeremio says:

    Let me be clear – I think it is best for our country if we all share at least one common language. There are a number of reasons why English should be one of, or perhaps the only, common language of the U.S. I hesitate to make it official because there is no official “English” language – and especially not in America which has diverged widely from its British English roots. Unlike French and Spanish, there is no government-run Academy that says what is and ain’t grammatical, or that regulates new vocabulary. So if English became the official language of the US, what would that look like exactly?

    However, “forced” is the correct word for learning English in schools at least, which is compulsory in our country.

    This is not to say that all immigrants resent learning English. In fact, last I checked the waiting list for English tutors was still long at the Skyline Literacy Coalition, and local churches and schools that offer free or low-cost English classes are usually overwhelmed by the response.

    But English is not easy to learn – in fact, many people report it is one of the most difficult languages in the world. And the US has a long history of multilingualism in spite of the common myth that previous immigrants learned English quickly and used it exclusively. So what do we do for immigrants (read:taxpayers) who haven’t yet mastered English enough to function in it well? It makes sense to provide forms and bilingual public servants to help language groups that have significant numbers.

    And I would also like to add that “immersion” as a teaching method has been shown time and time again in well-founded studies to be *less* effective than bilingual education.

  28. writergirl says:

    Zen, it is because they are terribly dangerous and offer no benefits and extremely low wages. A slaughterhouse can pay an illegal immigrant next to nothing and when he slices the arm off of the illegal immigrant next to him no one is going to say a word about the dangerous working conditions. If those companies paid legal workers to do the same job they would have to provide insurance and the workman’s comp payouts would kill them. As it is now they can employ doctors who will forge their books, patch up the illegals and send them right back out. They can spray chemicals across crops while pregnant women are out there picking and no one is going to say anything when her baby is born deformed? Who are they going to complain too? It’s cheap labor and a way around all those pesky employee safety regulations.

  29. finnegan says:

    zen, it could be (and I’m not saying that this is the case) that America has been “Wal-Mart-ized” to the point where we are no longer willing to pay what something is worth. Something is worth at least how much it costs to make it, which means paying someone a decent wage.

    Of course, there are alternatives: American Apparel, for example, has figured out a way to make a profit AND pay higher wages at their US manufacturing plants. But guess where you can’t buy AA shirts, because the retail prices are low, but are somehow not “low enough.”

    I believe we can do our small part by (at the very least) being more conscientious consumers. AA shirts are the most comfortable shirts I’ve ever worn. I’ve been eating food I bought at the farmers’ market all week… You get the idea.

  30. zen says:

    I don’t mean to sidetrack the discussion that Gxeremio has going. I think he’s pointed to a number of real world examples that there are no simple answers.

    As for the jobs Americans will not do, I think writergirl expands on the idea, in graphic detail ;), that our corporate-run government makes the rules, and keeps them the way they are for one reason only—the bottom line.

    finnegan, I completely agree that if the power of the dollar drives the problem, then the same will have to be the solution. I’ve posted on this idea a number of times myself. It’s often more expensive and much less convenient to live by one’s principles. And living in the rural valley the options are very limited, but it is very possible to make choices that address the larger issues of wise economic sustainability.

  31. writergirl says:

    Sorry didn’t mean to be so graphic :)

  32. cook says:

    this becomes very complicated, because an attempt to raise wages or fix working conditions will “force” employers to move operations outside the united states as soon as foreign labor + transportation costs becomes the more efficient alternative.

    some may say “great – this will move foreign labor out of the country – where it belongs.” but there is a lot of secondary “american” labor that depends on the foreign labor being located here geographically — farmers, construction, retailers, did i mention farmers?

  33. writergirl says:

    If we paid a legal worker the “real” wage for some of these jobs then shopping with local merchants would seem like a bargain. The price of these goods wouldn’t just go up, they would skyrocket and as Cook said that would cause things to be moved out of this country, which would in turn cause more problems. Now, as Daytonres mentioned a few posts back, this might not be a bad thing as we may all be forced to eat somewhere besides McDonald’s and lose some weight. However, I think the impact would be much greater than a 20 cent raise in beef prices. Ultimately I think this need for illegal workers is a product of corrupt employers who don’t care about anything but the bottom line, and a government that is willing to let those companies line its pockets for as long as it can get by with it. It’s an intricate pattern of government systems that rely on cheap labor, cheap goods and low wages.

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