Monday, December 17, 2007

Addressing Immigration

Tucson, Arizona. Many political blogs just bitch and never suggest solutions or recommendations. Apologies for the long post, but solutions take longer. I am going to start articulating solutions on a variety of topics. I start not with something easy (our currency) but with something difficult: Immigration.

The Center for Immigration Studies asserts that 12% of the Arizona workforce are illegal aliens according to this piece at Inside Tucson Business.

So we’re about to implement a law that can revoke the business license of a business found with illegal workers when 12 % of the state’s workers fit that description? If correct (I find it hard to believe), that's one out of eight workers.

Arizona passed the law, which is probably going to produce a fiasco, but the issue involves the entire country. Miami's population is 65 percent Hispanic (El Paso, 76 percent). Flushing, N.Y., is 60 percent immigrant (mainly Chinese). We have had Chinatowns, Hell’s Kitchens, and Little Italys dating back hundreds of years.

Bill O'Reilly, one of the stupidest mouthpieces to have a wide audience, shrieks in terror that the influx of immigrants will replace the "white Christian male power structure."

If indeed that were the outcome of immigration, I’d argue for accelerating the phenomenon as much as possible. O’Reilly’s stupidity aside, we face intelligent and difficult questions that must be addressed. We’re all descendents of immigrations. Rewind my clock and you arrive in Scotland. You have your clock, and unless you’re Native American, it rewinds to a place that’s not local.

We have Michael Savage fuming about "language, border, culture" and the terror that America will lose its identity. Savage, Buchanan, O’Reilly, Arizona’s Russell Pearce, may be kooks, but underneath their venom lies a legitimate concern about the decay of national identity, a very real threat that can and has destroyed an empire.

If the center does not hold, everything falls apart. Consider the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Immigration played a critical role. The "barbarians" did not attack in one day. They immigrated over hundreds of years and boiled the frog, slowly but inevitably fragmenting the empire to where it toppled. Could this happen to the United States? Absolutely.

Consider Europe’s mess where lax immigration has fermented hotbeds of alienated enclaves that do not integrate into society. Immigrants remain separate and alienated, loyal to their own, failing to learn the language or participate in the economy or education system. Then they decide their plight is the nation’s fault. Talk about a recipe for nothing very cheerful. Look at Iraq minus Saddam. You think that’s one country? It’s three trying to become one.

The national identity of the United States remains strong, but not properly managing our immigration policy can indeed put us on the road to ruin.

Does Rome’s fall suggest Savage is correct? Of course not. The xenophobes have no grasp of the economic impact and value of the immigrants. Minus immigrants, we would not have the country we have, the economy we have, and just halting appropriate immigration, or worse, the mass exportation of those here would inflict incalculable economic damage beyond the pale of anything the country could accept.

Not all of those wishing to become citizens, but some of them, are far too valuable to turn away. Those familiar with this blog know that I recently took an advanced mathematics course where most of the students came from China and India. Sorry, but the world's best high-tech scientists and engineers, in general, are not white, nor are they Christian. While at Sun Microsystems for training, I noticed over half the employees came from Asia. Unable to get enough visas for foreign engineers, Microsoft opened a large new software development center in Canada.

We arrive at the X4MR PLAN plan for addressing our immigration situation.

Intelligence calls for a managed flow of immigrants according to criteria. The xenophobes howl correctly that we cannot open the floodgates. We must process admissions with regard for a) assimilation, b) national unity c) labor market factors, and d) national security. The blog is not an academic document and I’ll spare the reader various citations. I was probably most influenced by Dr. Amy Chua, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant. Dr Chua is now a professor at Yale University. Her father's no idiot either.

STEP ONE - ADMISSION:. Craft intelligent admission priorities. We need to be less generous about the family thing, uniting third cousins and grandfathers of the husband of the sister of the wife. We’re not in the business of building families. The grandfather can visit. He doesn’t have to become a citizen. Far more important (and critical) are workforce skills and our labor market. Those possessing skills most needed in our economy should be supported and fast-tracked.

STEP TWO - INTEGRATION: We have to develop a program that promotes and insures assimilation of those admitted. A vital first step to this assimilation is language. 2A. Make English the official language and require it for citizenship. The folks to my left can have their cow. I said I was an Independent. We must have a common language to maintain a healthy common identity. Those who refuse to learn English can become citizens somewhere else. They can speak their own language at home and various gatherings, but our laws, court proceedings, traffic signage, political debates, city councils, legal contracts, and the machinery of public discourse should be English, period. I don’t care if there are Spanish or Chinese or Swahili entertainment stations on radio or TV, but we govern this nation in English, and our citizens should be able to participate in English conversation. I assert without a common language we cripple the central core, politically correct or not. If we allow language fragmentation we repeat past mistakes. I’m not saying they need to read Goethe. A practical and pragmatic standard should not be difficult to implement.

2B. In addition to language we require a program developed to educate and socialize immigrants into society that insures integration and not isolation. Said most simply, to become a citizen requires the completion of a program that involves learning English, a body of material TBD, employment, etc. as determined in a managed fashion that provides freedom of choice within parameters. They can choose what to do but cannot choose nothing. They can choose how to integrate but not whether to integrate. Integrate means become part of the country. If they don’t want to become part of the country, de facto they do not belong here and are not citizens. The objective is to insure successful participation and contribution to society and eliminate the development of alienated hotbeds some of Western Europe now faces.

STEP THREE – INTEGRITY: The system has to have integrity. If we allow illegal employment at slave wages or don’t enforce the systems stated above, the whole thing becomes a farce anyway. We must truly enforce the system we agree to implement. That includes real border security. What the folks to my right apparently fail to see is that we kid ourselves if we assert we can accomplish step three without handling step four.

STEP FOUR: LEGITIMIZATION: We have got to realize that we cannot deport the 15 million or so illegal immigrants that are already here. We must provide a mechanism for legitimizing and legalizing the productive and law abiding (other than being here) immigrants that are working here, and that legitimization must include the English language and the assimilation steps above as appropriate. Now, those who refuse to participate in the process should be deported.

All of the above requires sound management to succeed, and the devil is in the details. The solution will not be free, but it will cost less than the failure to address immigration and continuing with the status quo.

Key take-away points:
1. We cannot halt all immigration and lock the gate.
2. We must provide a means to legitimize those here that we need for economic reasons. We cannot deport 15 million people.
3. We need smarter admissions policies less concerned with family ties and more concerned with labor market conditions.
4. We must enforce what we implement and do what we say.
5. The solution will cost less than continuing the status quo.

The DREAM and STRIVE Acts are primarily consistent with the principles of this post.


Blogger Richard said...

This is an intelligent, thoughtful post. After growing up in New York (where I still have a pied a terre) and living much of my adult life in Miami-Fort Lauderdale (where I also still have a place), I have to admit that I find Arizona's attitude toward immigrants a bit scary and odd.

As someone who's taught English at the college level (and for one weird year in Phoenix, at the high school level), who writes books and is currently preparing a class for next semester in English lit going from Beowulf to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Woolf, I revere the English language.

But it's not practical for everyone to learn English. Older refugees, for example, or immigrants in their 70s or 80s, will find it almost impossible. As I said, I grew up in New York, where most of the Spanish-speaking people back in the 50s, 60s and 70s were Puerto Ricans -- already U.S. citizens from a commonwealth where Spanish is the language. Would you make every Puerto Rican learn English? And if we accommodate the Puerto Ricans' Spanish, what's the difference if we let Dominican-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans (they in particular had a hard time learning -- those of us in Miami who were Anglos, like my dad who moved there from New York in his 50s to work as a sales rep, learned Spanish if we had to; it's not that big a deal) keep their language?

The truth is, they won't. The pull of English is too strong. As a staff attorney in social policy at the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida about 13 years ago, I worked with Prof. Sandra Fradd of the School of Education of the University of Miami. With Miami as the unofficial capital of Latin America, the "neutral" HQ of many pan-Latin American corporations, we wanted to see if our high school students were prepared to do business in Spanish. Unfortunately or fortunately, we discovered that the overwhelmingly Hispanic majority of Miami-Dade County high school students were not very proficient in Spanish. They really knew Spanglish; even at the second generation, most could write and read better in English even though they "spoke" Spanish at home.

When I first moved to Miami, I did a reading of some stories at an arts festival and a 15yo Cuban boy came up afterwards and told me he wanted to be a writer too. I asked him, "Will you write in Spanish or English?" He looked at me as if I were crazy.

In my view the best U.S. novelist under 40 is Junot Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic. Another of my favorite novelists is Edwidge Danticat, born in Haiti. Much of the energy in American literature has come from writers I teach like them, Amy Tan, Gish Jen, Sandra Cisneros, Ha Jin, Kiran Desai and too many others to name.

I have taught at schools like Borough of Manhattan Community College or Broward Community College where the vast majority of students are from other countries. I've had students from such places as Burkina Faso, Montenegro, Tajikistan, Albania, Sierra Leone, Bhutan, and other countries some Americans have never heard of. I've had Cuban-Chinese students, Japanese-Brazilian students, many Indo-Caribbean students from Guyana and Trinidad, many Bukharian Jews from Uzbekistan (particularly in Phoenix) in addition to the more common immigrants from China, Russia, the D.R., Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Korea, Brazil, and the other nations which provide the bulk of our immigrants. All, without exception, want to learn English. But their grandparents are too old.

I remember one of my great-grandmothers who died when I was 5 in 1956. She never learned English properly and spoke Yiddish, and I spoke Yiddish to her. All my great-grandparents were first-generation immigrants and all spoke Yiddish mostly. But my grandparents, whom I used to think spoke Yiddish when I was a kid, I realized when I was in my 20s and 30s really had no command of the language, couldn't read it, and were fluent English speakers despite not graduating high school. My parents and I essentially know the Yiddish words that have come into English. By the third generation everyone knows English.

Unlike in Europe, Muslim immigrants here have assimilated. Even in neighborhoods I know with lots of Muslims -- like Bay Ridge in Brooklyn -- they are living alongside longtime Americans as well as recent immigrants from China, Russia and other countries.

They shut down Teen People en Espanol because Hispanic kids did not want a magazine in Spanish.

You know what the largest English-speaking country in the world will be soon? China, which will have more English speakers than any other country.

We don't need to enforce English. The original English-only laws were aimed at residents of states like North Dakota, where the majority of people used to speak German. How many North Dakotan German-Americans know that language today? Read the 19th century stuff and you'll see all the same arguments I hear in Arizona about Spanish made against German.

12/17/2007 4:16 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Also, what do you mean by your statement, "I’m not saying they need to read Goethe"?

Goethe, of course, wrote Faust and The Sorrows of Young Werther and everything else, in High German.

12/17/2007 4:23 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...


Terrific remarks. Perhaps my means should be improved, but I stand by the end result of having the English language be the official discourse.

About the 70 year olds, good point.

Regarding Goethe, ha ha. Clearly I read the English translations and meant to suggest that a practical functionality is all that's required.

They need to be able to read the traffic signs, speak to a cop if pulled over, interact with the grocery clerk, etc. To vote responsibly, they should understand what our candidates are saying. I am most willing to have the basics fine tuned.

12/17/2007 8:59 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I knew what you meant about Goethe, but it just goes to show you how fluid language is. Interestingly, when I teach authors in translation, like Jorge Luis Borges or Dostoevsky or Voltaire, I sometimes tell students who are ESL to try reading it in their native languages, which are sometimes the same as the author's language (Borges's Spanish, Dostoevesky's Russian) and sometimes not (if the student is Korean, for example, he's still reading a translation from Russian or Spanish if he gets a Korean one). I have never yet had a student like that idea, and some of them get offended, even the ones struggling with English.

And then there was the time I was teaching at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale when an African-American student came in upset because she'd been called a racist name.

It turned out that it was other black students -- all from the Caribbean, as are many black people in Florida and New York -- had called this girl a "Yank."

12/17/2007 9:15 AM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

Just curious, x4mr, why you didn't mention the need for a long term solution that eliminates the pressure to migrate north. You have written about that in the past.

Was that intentional or an oversight?

12/17/2007 3:29 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


Most intentional. I've decided the global economy is another (although certainly related) issue. I could have mentioned it, but the short term cannot wait for the long term.

Mexico and Latin America are subjects best left to others.

12/18/2007 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

Help with the solution, before even talkig citizenship

Everybody should work legally in this country - temporary work permits will do for now-. We should enforce minimum wage and other labor related laws (IRS will be happy to colect taxes and go after employers). The higher revenue will pay not only for education and other social services but also for the cost of the programs mentioned above.

12/18/2007 9:49 PM  

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