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Speak English, for goodness' sake (insert eyeroll here)

(Here's where I get all ranty and self-righteous and stay or go, but if you stay and disagree, remember your hold your mom's hand with those typing fingers.)

Lately there's been another resurgence of the English only (trying to find a word other than BS here...give me a sec...errr) preference.

But it's gone beyond preference.

In my own state---aka The Red Republic---a city well north of me passed an ordinance requiring landlords to act as immigration police. At almost the same time, Hazelton, PA was passing the same ordinance. This ordinance, which exemplifies many ongoing through the country, would allow the city to fine businesses and landlords who employ or house illegal immigrants. Further, it required city documents to be in English (only). It was one of the toughest ordinances out there, and was passed by the mayor, himself the descendant of immigrants.

Nicely, it spurred racism, especially when a local bar posted a sign stating that only "legals" would be served there.

And that---at heart---is what it is: Anti-brown legislation.

The US eventually embraced Irish immigrants, and even (verbally) said "not cool to discriminate" against African Americans. But we haven't given up segregation and racism at all. It's alive and well, and now the spotlight is focused on Hispanics.

The racism is couched in beautiful language, as rationale for evil often is, and focuses on touchpoints such as "protecting our nation and culture" and "security" and "law-abiding" and "illegal immigration."

If you do a google search for "illegal immigrant+law" you can find about 45 hours (at least) of reading material about recent actions to "stamp down" on illegal immigration.

Idaho is employing anti-mafia laws to attack businesses that employ illegal immigrants:

Officials in Canyon County, Idaho (search), say that illegal immigrants are costing their county millions of dollars in medical and welfare benefits — millions of dollars the county wants back from agricultural companies, officials say, that knowingly employed undocumented workers.

In an unprecedented move, Canyon County is suing several local businesses under the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.

"It's an organized, orchestrated invasion, economic invasion of the United States," said Canyon County commissioner Robert Vasquez. “They're costing the county money in medical indigency welfare cases, and also in crime and other statistical data that we've compiled"

The RICO Act was originally designed to target organized crime, and it has been used a number of times to accuse companies of conspiring to lower wages by hiring illegal immigrants. But the lawsuit filed by Canyon County in U.S. District Court in Boise takes the conspiracy theory to a whole new level.

The Idaho Farm Bureau (search) says companies in need of laborers often walk a fine line between proving worker eligibility and being accused of discrimination.

Texas has vigilantes patrolling the border, taking who knows what actions against anyone near the border with brown skin.

Here is where politics---and the current "skinny jean trend" of the political platform---butts head with law.

At the end of October, a federal judge blocked Hazelton, PA's ordinance that fines businesses and landlords:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the city of Hazleton from enforcing a pair of ordinances targeting illegal immigrants, just hours before the measures were to go into effect.

The measures, approved by the City Council last month, would have imposed fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denied business permits to companies that give them jobs. They also would have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

U.S. District Judge James Munley ruled that landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics faced "irreparable harm" from the laws and issued a temporary restraining order blocking their enforcement.

The clear and obvious plan, as Judge Munley pointed out, is to make it not worth an immigrant's while to move to the US. Additionally, I believe it is intended, by causing citizens financial pain, to increase intolerance of immigrants, and decrease assistance to immigrants. With racism to face, no work to be had or place to live, why bother coming?

And yet, immigration is on the rise (see stats below, at the end of this article).

During college, I wrote a monograph about immigration. I traveled to Mexico and spent a week at the main immigration center. I spoke to the American citizens who handled the process, learned about the process, and spoke to people hoping to immigrate. My paper was published, and I felt a hollow victory.

At 20 years old, I had a bitter taste in my mouth, and a crystal clear understanding of why people traveled illegally to the US. I understood why they were driven to stand for days outside the immigration facility, hoping for a chance to get the paperwork. And I understood the bigotry they faced not only from the process itself, but also from some of the people I spoke to who handle the process.

When I compared the immigration process for Hispanics to the experience of other immigrants from Canada and Germany (all pre-9/11), I found odd discrepancies, in practice, if not in theory. It all cost the same---a frustrating expense to the Anglos and a near-impossiblity for many Mexicans I spoke to---but somehow the Europeans generally got to go through the process while living and working in the US, whereas the Mexicans were not allowed across the border until all medical and other paperwork was completed.

It's primarily anecdotal, my knowledge, but somehow I don't think it is too distant from data. All you have to do is check the cost for someone to immigrate against the annual average earnings of a person from the home nation.

Immigration does cost. The last survey I read had it at about $29 billion per year. However, this isn't the number people are yelling about. What you hear about---in between soundbites about how you deserve a break today and are owed a life full of marvelous objects of fun and leisure---is how immigration costs you in jobs and housing.

I agree a process is necessary.

However, when the current process leads to an increase in breaking the procedural law, why is the first and loudest answer to clamp down on the "law breakers" instead of review and revise the process?

Don't worry, I've heard answers for this. It usually begins with how I don't understand. It generally encompasses an explanation of the administrative costs, and a point about how immigration is regularly reformed. The denoument is typically "and that's why it must be the way it is."

The reform I find is actually more laws to stem immigration and increased budgets to prevent illegal immigration (which is allegedly on the rise).

I'm sure there is a lot I don't know or understand. For example, I don't know how heavy immigration affects the countries supplying high numbers of immigrants to the US. Could it be a sort of "urban flight" situation?

I don't know the best solution. What we have now isn't working for either the immigrants or the country and its services. For example, costs are high to the immigrants and to social services.

However, there are things I do know.

I do know we should not, must not, confuse our feelings about illegal immigration (and---for those who do have these feelings---feelings about immigrants themselves) with a cultural-cling movement. English only isn't the solution. Neither is racism.

I know that every week when I go to the local postal business center, they have both Spanish and English speaking employees to service their large Spanish-speaking population. I know that in line ahead and behind me, every time, are men who bring their paychecks to the wire transfer service there to send money home.

I'm not supposing. I'm a nosy rosy. I listen in. I ask. They are sending money home. They are coming in for help to understand complicated paperwork, all written in English, with no translation available. One man was shipping a second-hand bike home to his son in rural Mexico.

They aren't simply immigrants. They are people, trying for the same life we all think we deserve.

This Christmas, consider these people, far from home:

For many Mexican immigrants living in the United States, the holidays have come to represent a time of sadness.

Separated by a border that has become harder and harder to cross, many immigrants must make the agonizing choice between staying away from family south of the border or risk not being able to return to their jobs in the United States.

Last October, the U.S. Congress enacted the Secure Fence Act, which marked the first steps toward building a 700-mile-long fence across part of the U.S.-Mexico border. As a result, undocumented workers - many of whom just want to work and send money back home - are finding it more difficult to cross back.


Some facts:

* Roughly 10 percent of Mexico’s population of about 107 million is now living in the United States, estimates show. About 15 percent of Mexico’s labor force is working in the United States. One in every 7 Mexican workers migrates to the United States.

* Mass migration from Mexico began more than a century ago. It is deeply embedded in the history, culture and economies of both nations. The current wave began with Mexico’s economic crisis in 1982, accelerated sharply in the 1990s with the U.S. economic boom, and today has reached record dimensions.

* Of the 13 Democrats from Texas in the US House of Representatives six are Hispanics and three are blacks, including two women.

* In Richmond, California 61.4 percent of home loans made to Hispanic borrowers were higher-cost loans.

* 75 percent of Hispanic farm workers suffer from skin diseases

* Latino immigrants will send $45 billion home this year, up from $30 billion in 2004. Yet they tend to be poor by American standards, with the majority earning less than $30,000 a year, according to a survey by the Inter-American Development Bank.

* The Federal Reserve has devised a remittance program to bring Mexican migrants who send money home into the mainstream banking system, regardless of their immigration status.

You can read more at:

Immigration Primer

Use your own best judgement at these sites:



Center for Immigration Studies

My personal POV about language:

My children attend a bilingual school. They are taught in both English-only and Spanish-only. If I run into someone who doesn't speak the language in which I am fluent, or one of the other three I have studied, I think it is a two person challenge. I don't consider myself to be in any superior position, and that the other person must adjust to accomodate me.

And more food for thought, which you really must go read, is Jen at One Plus Two, and her post: Mangoes Roasting On An Open Fire

By Julie Pippert
© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Girlplustwo said…

Love this post. I was rather outraged at the whole Penn completely wrong.
kim said…
Anti-Brown legislation is exactly what it is. It makes me insane. Language is just a convenient excuse to cover racism.

Once I get my act together I plan on posting about this issue because it has become very real and personal to me. My daughter has three children in her Kindergarten class that did not speak English just a few short months ago. These children utterly amaze me and have shown me that as is the case more times than not the popular conception is wrong.

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