My childhood is a memory of sounds and neighbors, and families who spoke Spanish, Greek, Polish, Arabic, and Italian. Language was never a barrier when I visited my friends or spoke to their parents. Most of their parents also spoke English, but spoke to their children in their native language. Parents were passing on their language, while also instilling in their children the importance of school and speaking English.
In today's immigration debate, immigrants have been characterized as unwilling to learn English or lacking the willingness to be part of the nation. These characterizations are unfounded and contrary to studies and a history which demonstrates that, in fact, new immigrants strive to ensure that their children learn English and the customs, norms and mores of their new country.
Early immigrants to the US also faced assumptions and stereotypes. Germans, Irish and others also faced the onslaught of ignorance and racism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, restrictionists claimed that Italians could not speak English and were different from previous immigrants. We know these views were false.
According to local elected officials such as Walter Tejada (Vice Chair of the Arlington, Virginia County Board), local anti-immigrant measures such as those in Prince William and Loudon Counties are motivated by a lack of information or education about the contributions of immigrants to communities and xenophobia.
"We are talking about people who want to be a part of the American community," Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett of Maryland said during a recently held panel on local immigration ordinances in Washington, DC.
According to a National Conference of State Legislatures' report, in the absence of federal legislation on immigration reform, state legislatures, considered 1,404 immigration measures this year and passed 170 of them.(New York Times)
According to Vic Walczak, ACLU attorney in the Hazleton Pennsylvania case, "Every single judge, this includes state and federal, appointed by Republicans and Democrats, every judge has said these laws are likely to be unconstitutional." The measures are also premised on myths that immigrants burden health care and increase crime rates, which the evidence in the Hazelton case disproves, Walczak said.
According to Tejada and Leggett, local anti-immigrant ordinances only make communities less welcoming and demonstrate the need for substantive solutions on federal immigration reform. As Village President Bill Sarto (Carpentersville, Illinois) has noted about a proposed English-only ordinance, "Passing this ordinance is not going to make one person learn English any faster ... All it will say is this: 'This is not a welcoming community.' The immigration problem is not going be solved here in Carpentersville."(NYT Magazine)
At the American Friends Service Committee, "we work from the conviction that fences that criminalize aspirations for decent, productive lives do not make for good neighbors, and that temporary worker programs exploit people but welcome no guests," writes Paul Lacey, clerk of AFSC's national board of directors and a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers).
This past week, several Senators introduced Senate Bill 1984 which continues to press for beefed up enforcement including walls, an employment identification card and other measures. Sadly, this latest action does nothing to address the underlying causes of immigration nor does it provide workable solutions that keep families intact and allow for the adjustment of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Take Action: Tell Congress that we need to fix our immigration system and that fences, raids, and detentions are not the answer.
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