Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Speaking Truth against Immigrant Bashing

"This is the most mean-spirited piece of legislation I have seen in my 30 years down here," said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) about an English-only bill introduced this month in the Virginia Senate. The bill (SB 339), introduced by Virginia State Senator Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), allows employers to fire employees for "inability" to speak English at the workplace and deny them unemployment benefits.

"I am appalled that my state senator ... has proposed legislation that would create a climate of fear..." wrote Dick Lessard of Centreville, Virginia. The bill targets immigrants authorized to work in the U.S. since undocumented employees are already ineligible for unemployment benefits. "If a job requires command of English, then an employer should assess applicants' language skills before making a job offer, not after," Lessard wrote.

Senator Cuccinelli said that he drafted the bill after one employer complained that his unemployment taxes increased because he fired an employee who did not learn English. However, when questioned, Cuccinelli could not recall the employer's name (Washington Post).

An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post describes the bill as based on blame-shifting, overzealousness and xenophobia. "Mr. Cuccinelli's bill rates poor English as an offense on a par with substance abuse, lying about past criminal convictions, missing work and committing infractions that cost an employer his business license - all of them equal grounds for denying unemployment benefits to a fired worker. That's absurd on its face," writes the Post.

"This odious immigrant bashing rhetoric ignores the daily contribution of hard working immigrants to the Virginia economy," said Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, Area Director of AFSC's DC Peace and Economic Justice Program. "I wonder if at the end of the day, the legislators drafting anti-immigrant bills ask whether the food they enjoy in a restaurant, the beautiful houses they live in, and the clean floors of their offices are the work of English speaking-only Americans," he said.

A Minute of your Time: Speak Out!

  • Write a letter to the editor thanking the Washington Post for the editorial entitled "Second Class Citizens." Let them know that you are one more voice speaking out against xenophobia and the immigrant-bashing legislation recently introduced in Virginia.