by Ernest Barteldes
While most of America – myself included – was tuned into the negotiations towards the victorious Health Care Bill (signed into law by President Obama last Tuesday to much fanfare and celebration), thousands rallied to the nation’s capital in order to plea for yet another urgent issue: Immigration reform.
With the support of luminaries like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Princeton University scholar Cornel West and others, protesters demanded the President to live up to his promise to find a solution for the plight of 12 million undocumented aliens who live in this country without any rights whatsoever – even the benefits of the new health care law, from which they are barred.
There is no easy solution for this problem. One of the core issues is that conservatives will reject any form of measure that reeks of amnesty in any shape or form, and prefer to have all those who are in the US illegally to return to their countries in order to apply for residence. However, that is an unenforceable and impossible situation – millions of those have been here since they were children, with almost no connection to their countries of birth.
Worse even is the fact that an order to deport all undocumented aliens is essentially a Tea Partiyer wet dream – and little else. There is no way that this country can enforce this kind of attitude, specially when our borders are as vast as they are (some talk about the fence across the Mexican border, but what about the mostly unguarded Canadian border?).
Last week, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) presented an outline for a bill that would require illegal aliens to come forward, admit they broke the law, pay a fine and do community service, in addition to taking an English language test (considering we have no ‘official’ language in the Constitution, that would be another thing that would be challenged by Civil Rights lawyers). Of course, there is no chance there will be any debate on this issue until a job bills is signed, and then we have to go through the midterm elections in November.
Now one issue Immigration opponents point out is the reluctance that new immigrants have of speaking English. I have to agree with them on that one. I have seen far too many people living here without ever really integrating here. As an ESL teacher, music journalist and as a resident of a mostly immigrant neighborhood, I have met far too many people who live here as if they had never left their native lands. Today, we have radio and TV in virtually every language in the world (not only the Spanish-language networks – there is a lot more on cable), and the first thing new immigrants do when they get here is to subscribe to those services.
That didn’t really happen in the past. My ancestors from Germany (from my paternal father’s side) quickly became part of this nation’s fabric – my grandfather (whose father was German) joined the Navy and fought the Nazis without ever seeing himself as a German-American. And my Brazilian mother spoke fluent English at the time she lived here, and never tried to Brazilianize the household. Today, we see many who seem to be loyal to their ancestral heritage first and their country of birth second. Evidence of this are the images of the rally, which showed most of the protesters chanting “Yes We Can” in Spanish.
I don’t think that preserving one’s culture (and food) is wrong, but until the current generation of newcomers understands they have to be part of the American melting pot, they will not be accepted
as part of this nation – which makes our fight for reform much harder