Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obama misses the point on bilingualism

Barack Obama's remarks on "your kids" needing to learn Spanish (referring to people who support some form of "english-only" initiative) is of a piece with his previous gaffes. It was an off the cuff moment which, notwithstanding his hard tack to the right once the nomination was clinched. reflects his rather standard left-liberal predispositions. He doesn't like initiatives, such as english-only curriculum which might increase the english capabilities of immigrants. He waves off, as he so often does, the consequences of this form of "compassion." "They'll learn English," he says."

There is also a sense in which he has once again come across as a condescending Ivy-leaguer. He hates the fact that "we" go to France and all we can say is "Merci Beaucoup." Everyone laughs. They can remember struggling with the menu in Cannes.

Now I think learning a foreign language is a great thing. I have a little German and one of the things I'd like to do, if I had more time, is become fluent or, perhaps, to pick up some French or Italian. For me, it will have little professional applicability but would be enriching.

And that brings me to the first thing that Obama's remarks miss. The reason that we don't place more emphasis on teaching foreign languages (although most kids wind up taking a few years of it) is that, for most of us, it's not necessary.

The fact is that you can go to France and do quite nicely speaking only English. I have represented a client in purchasing companies in Denmark and Germany. We negotiated and wrote the agreements in English. I can call almost any law firm in Europe and talk to a receptionist, much less a lawyer, who can speak very passable English.

It is difficult - particularly later in life - to learn a foreign language. You are far more likely to do it if you have to and you are immersed in a context in which it is the only thing spoken. "They'll learn English?" Well, maybe not if they can get by without it, however much it might keep them from more significant advancement.

The second thing Obama misses is reflected in his admoniton to all of us to learn Spanish.

Why? If the point is to be able to speak to newcomers who can't speak English, then his problem with our monolinguism is that we won't accommodate newcomers who want to retain their native tongue.

That's very different than the motivation that has compelled so many Europeans to learn English. It is not to accomodate immigrants. (They'd need to learn Arabic to do that.) It is because English has increasingly become a common second language and is often used to conduct international business.

There may certainly be value to learning Spanish in a globalized world, but Chinese or Russian or even Arabic might be better choices.

Having gaffed again, Obama embarked on his customary backtrack. "All I was doing is advocating learning another language. That's a good thing."

Sure it is. But his purpose in saying it was to dismiss initiatives that might help immigrants have the same advantages as the French and Danes. His example of bilingual Europeans makes a point just the opposite of what he intended.

35 comments:

capper said...

Learning a language also helps one learn their culture. With the addition learning, it helps a person to grow, helps avoid needless conflicts, and can enhance a person's earning potential. Yup, all bad things.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Here's Obama's full statement (emphasis mine):

"I don't understand when people are going around saying, 'We need to have English only.' They want to pass a law 'We want English only.' Now I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English. They'll learn English. You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual. We should have every child speaking more than one language. It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?"

Those "English only laws" Obama was referring to are hardly the innocuous "initiatives" you refer to in your post. A recent version, pushed by Sen. Lamar Alexander in the US Senate, for instance, mandated that employees can only speak English while on the job site (as opposed to just while interacting with customers or other English speakers) since it supposedly encourages division in the work force. Other state versions have limited bilingual services, multilingual ballots, posting multilingual public notices, etc. Those laws are hardly about increasing "the English capabilities of immigrants."

Obama stated very clearly that he thinks immigrants should learn English, and I have little doubt he supports education-based initiatives to make that happen. But those English-only laws he was referring to have nothing to do with education.

Dad29 said...

Seth:

So what?

Those initiatives are meant to PREVENT harm, both to English and non-English speakers.

Seth Zlotocha said...

What harm is caused by allowing employees to speak among themselves in their native language and posting public notices in more than one language?

And the "so what" is that if Rick would've written about English-only laws that restrict the language used on job sites and in public notices it would come off much differently than referring to "initiatives" like "english-only curriculums" (which is already the reality in just about every school district and university in the country, particularly outside of the SW, most of which only have ESL programming for non-native speakers). In other words, most people see education-based initiatives designed to strengthen instruction in English and laws that bar bilingualism as two very different things, and in order for Rick and other conservatives to make this a "gaffe" by some out-of-touch liberal -- as opposed to a mainstream response to radical right ideology -- they need to convince people it's the former.

Cherene said...

The basic ethics of summary, especially when summarizing those with whom you disagree, is to be as accurate and comprehensive as possible. This site's summary of Obama's comment and its extremely limited quotation of the full statement is, at best, ungenerous and, at worst, unethically and deliberately inaccurate. This has become a trend on this site. When considered with the site's complete lack of commentary on McCain or on those elements of Obama's politics with which the site agrees (e.g. the limits of government and the importance of family in eradicating poverty), it becomes almost impossible to trust the author's judgment or analysis.

Anonymous said...

Cherene -

I think you should admit that the real reason that you do not like this blog is because it does not represent your views of the far left wanting more and more government dependency, which is what Obama represents.

Obama does not represent the solution but represents the problem to many, many people. It probably could be argued that children are not even learning English very well and now you want to try to have them learn another language as well. The left needs a reality check when you consider most of the policies they have and do support.

Anonymous said...

No, Shark, you miss the point on bilingualism. We live in a global economy and with so many companies having facilities overseas, it is just common sense to be bilingual. It is pathetic that more Americans do not speak a foreign language. And, speaking of touring in a foreign country, doesn't it make your vacation much more enjoyable if you can speak and understand the language?

Rick Esenberg said...

Seth

Some of these initiatives do go too far. But limiting multilingual services and notices, etc., might well serve, in the long run, to increase the capabilities of immigrants. If you can live, albeit in a limited fashion, in a Spanish bubble, you are unlikely to learn English.

Anon 10:32

No, actually you miss my point (as does capper). I think being bilingual is a good thing although for most people it will have little economic benefit. My point has to do with how and why someone acquires a second language.

Seth Zlotocha said...

It probably could be argued that children are not even learning English very well and now you want to try to have them learn another language as well. The left needs a reality check when you consider most of the policies they have and do support.

Actually, the research shows that studying a second language has a complimentary, as opposed to negative, impact on native language comprehension. And, furthermore, I don't think many on the right -- including Rick -- would agree that foreign language education is merely a policy of the left.

But limiting multilingual services and notices, etc., might well serve, in the long run, to increase the capabilities of immigrants. If you can live, albeit in a limited fashion, in a Spanish bubble, you are unlikely to learn English.

For starters, Rick, this still doesn't explain why you avoided delving into the real issue of English-only laws and opted instead for the watered-down straw man of "initiatives" like "english-only curriculums." And, second, there are plenty of inherent (like better jobs) and less obtrusive (like a path to citizenship) incentives for immigrants to learn English that are far more effective and don't involve silly government mandates on workplace chit-chat and public notices.

The bottom line is that the crux of Obama's point is that we should be more concerned with increasing bilingualism than searching for ways to mandate monolingualism in petty ways, and that's hardly a "gaffe."

Anonymous said...

A commenter on the Rachel Lucas blog said it very succinctly.

Olsmoblogger:
"Who can vote in the U.S.? U.S. Citizens.

Naturalized citizens must demonstrate English proficiency. Native-born citizens have no excuse not to be proficient in English. Therefore, ballots need only be printed in English. The fact that multi-lingual ballots already exist is prima facie evidence of voter fraud, and anyone who advocates multi-lingual ballots is objectively an advocate of and/or accessory to voter fraud. Q. E. Duh."

I fail to see how multi-lingual official forms help legal or illegal Hispanics to merge with current US society. A US citizen learning a foreign language is a mutually exclusive concept from having a single official language for a country. BO only mixed them in because it made his argument sound stronger.

I am sure Seth and Capper think BO is just right and good. They and BO himself are not in the least cognizant of the real truth, that 95% or more of all voters who need the multilingual aspect of a voting form will vote Democrat. Yup, pure randomness there. "They'll learn English" flies directly in the face of the growing Hispanic Ghettoes across Metropolitan America, but somehow BO it will make it so.

The Shark is 100% correct on one aspect of this debate. Most people learn a second language when they have to, whether it is exigent (moving to another Country) or personal (they want to travel, work in Int'l business, or the Country within 5 miles of their home speaks a different language). If Illinois spoke a different language, I would know it.
I have a major in German and it helped a little while visiting in Germany and as a substitute teacher, but I have done neither for over 7 years and I can remember little. If all the people I talk to speak Spanish, it is likely I will only speak Spanish.
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

I fail to see how multi-lingual official forms help legal or illegal Hispanics to merge with current US society.

Public forms like notices aren't an assimilation tool; they're intended to communicate information of public importance. My point is that there are more effective means for assimilating immigrants.

As for multilingual ballots, it's not true at all that their existence necessitates voter fraud. There are plenty of US citizens who still have stronger reading skills in their native language, particularly when it comes to lengthy ballot measures like referendums or constitutional amendments.

A US citizen learning a foreign language is a mutually exclusive concept from having a single official language for a country. BO only mixed them in because it made his argument sound stronger.

Not sure what you're trying to say here. Obama didn't say those two ideas were dependent upon each other. He just said, essentially, that increasing bilingualism in native English speakers is more valuable than enacting English-only laws.

The Shark is 100% correct on one aspect of this debate. Most people learn a second language when they have to

Agreed. But mandating English-only in the work place or on public notices is petty and divisive. Requiring English competency as part of a path to citizenship creates incentive and actually makes some sense.

cherene said...

the real reason that you do not like this blog is because it does not represent your views of the far left wanting more and more government dependency, which is what Obama represents.

I'm not sure what your point is here. My point was that the blog fails a simple test of accurate summary when it comes to Obama. How are my views about the far left relevant?

In any case, your claim about Obama goes against the evidence. Here's what he said at the NAACP today:

Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because I believe that in the end, it doesn't matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch - none of it will make any difference if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives.

Anonymous said...

Cherene -

I must have missed something because I thought Obama supports socialized healthcare that is huge government dependency. Moreover, I have not heard of any proposal by him that would reduce government dependency. Therefore, I conclude that he represents more government dependency, which is the position of the far left.

I think you'll have a hard time to portray him differently.

Anonymous said...

"Requiring English competency as part of a path to citizenship creates incentive and actually makes some sense."

Printing and advertising everything in two or more languages is expensive and if we are agreed that English will be learned as part of citizenship it is unnecessary. Most foreign born immigrants are stronger in their original language. Why on earth would we only cater to the press of illegal immigrants(who by definition are the ones not learning english)and print in English and Spanish only and not other languages?

"My point is that there are more effective means for assimilating immigrants."

Your points always seem well thought out so I am very interested. Seth was just elected, what 'means' does he refer to? I believe immersion is the very best way to learn a language and language is the most important aspect of assimilation. What is your take?

I think if you give people an option to be lazy the majority will take that option. As far as the English only thing, I think it is very important to have one official language. I think it is silly to pass or enforce a workplace 'law'(if you hire a retail worker that can't speak fluent English, for example, your business deserves to fail in the US. If I owned any type of business including one where Hispanics were my main pool to choose from I would hire bilingual speaking foremen, but require them to speak English except in safety/emergency situations. You want promotion? Show that you are not lazy and learn the language of the nation you live in. I think that would only be discriminating against lazy people(or people with very poor language skills and they don't usually make good foremen either). As an employer this is a good thing.

Cherene that quote is a gem and if Obama made his platform around that statement, he would get a good proportion of the conservative vote. Unfortunately, personal responsibility is the antithesis of socialist, nanny state, big Government. 'You can't be trusted to buckle up, to save money, to handle a weapon, to get yourself a raise or a better job, to learn English, to get your kid to school and discipline him so he learns something, to speak to others in a non-racist manner, to know what racism is'(it is something only white people can be), so the Government will step in and help you. Obama is pro-Government intervention, and by default against people taking responsibilty for themselves.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Why on earth would we only cater to the press of illegal immigrants(who by definition are the ones not learning english)and print in English and Spanish only and not other languages?

I already explained why printing multilingual ballots is important for some US citizens, even those who have a decent grasp of the written English language. The same goes for other public forms and notices, though it also can be important for any immigrants -- documented or not -- to have access to some notices or documents in their native language or to staff who speak their native language.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it should be noted that I'm not advocating that every public agency publish all documents, website info, or even ballots in multiple languages. My argument is that it should be a local decision. If a particular locale or agency has important information that it wants to communicate to an immigrant group in its jurisdiction, then it should have the ability to publish that information in the native language of that immigrant group. Blanket state or federal laws usurp this local control, which I find to be poor public policy along with an ineffective way to assimilate since it's based on negative incentives rather than positive ones.

Which brings me to...

Seth was just elected, what 'means' does he refer to?

As I mentioned, as part of a path to citizenship would be one means to incentivize English proficiency without using blanket laws that take control away from local agencies and are based upon division. There are plenty of advantages to becoming a US citizen that are pretty much universal to all immigrants -- as opposed to public notices or forms, which are potentially only important to some -- and that would be the most effective way to encourage the most amount of people to learn English.

I believe immersion is the very best way to learn a language and language is the most important aspect of assimilation. What is your take?

I agree immersion is the best way to learn a language. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea to set blanket laws that restrict access to potentially important public information, which can negatively impact documented immigrants working toward citizenship -- and even those who have become naturalized -- as much as undocumented immigrants, or to push ridiculous laws like those on workplace chit-chat. And, as it happens, most immigrants are already pretty well immersed without government mandating it in petty or silly ways.

In the end, though, I don't mind an honest debate about English-only laws. I ultimately think whether public documents are made available in one or more languages should be as local of a decision as possible, ideally involving a case-by-case evaluation even within public agencies (it may make sense for some documents, but not others, for instance). And I ultimately think mandating the language spoken between employees in a workplace environment is totally ludicrous. I can respect, though, that someone feels differently.

But that's not what started this discussion. What started this discussion is the fact that the reality of what Obama was talking about was twisted as a means for disingenuously pegging him as an out-of-touch liberal, and whether you feel that English-only laws are a good idea or not shouldn't excuse that.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong Seth, that was well said and I agree with local control 100%, and I am sick of 'Obamisms' and 'McCain gaffes' that are nothing more than mispeaks or not 100% clear pre-written speeches and thus ready for ambiguities and twistings from the 'other side'.

However, could you clarify the better means for assimilating immigrants? Are the 'better means' local control of when to use multiple languages and the incentive of citizenship for learning English? I don't want to respond without knowing what you mean unless it is just what you said earlier 'better jobs' and 'a path to citizenship'. My answer to that are questions. There are certainly many Latinos who learn English, but in concentrated Latino areas there is a strong trend to speak spanish only and little incentive to learn English when there is such a strong desire to keep culure, language, etc. Many Spanish only speaking legal immigrants also hide the fact that there are so many Latinos that are illegal. How do we deal with that? In that same vein, do we offer anyone who can get in to our Country the same rules and paths to citizenship that other foreign nationals need to take? If so, shouldn't we just remove all barriers to citizenship other than criteria like learning English(for example), paying taxes, etc.

There was something I said that was unclear, but I am not sure I can articulate what I mean concerning BO's speech. He said "They'll learn English...", but isn't that the problem he/we are discussing? There are so many single language Spanish speakers in the US that we are offering every thing Government related in English and Spanish? Instead of talking methods, ideas, proposals on how to deal with that, he then said and I apologize for paraphrasing 'but Americans should learn Spanish' or be bilingual. It made it sound like that was his real proposed solution when the two concepts really have nothing to do with each other unless said American is planning on moving to another Country where another language is spoken. Then I have no sympathy for them if they don't...

Seth Zlotocha said...

However, could you clarify the better means for assimilating immigrants? Are the 'better means' local control of when to use multiple languages and the incentive of citizenship for learning English?

Public documents like notices and forms are essentially means of communication between government and those in its jurisdiction. My argument is that these are not the best means for assimilation b/c sometimes the communication is too important to risk using it as a means for "teaching a lesson" to immigrants (that lesson being "learn our language or languish"), and, perhaps more importantly, it's a slip-shot means for assimilation since it can negatively impact immigrants who are going through the proper steps to become naturalized or even those who have become naturalized but still understand their native written language better than English, and, perhaps most importantly, it takes control over communications away from localities in an overly-blunt blanket manner. To clarify, I don't think local units should be using it as a means for assimilation, either (although that's a decision I would be more apt to accept -- though still wouldn't agree with -- than blanket state or federal laws), essentially for the same reasons stated above (except, obviously, the last one).

A more effective means for incentivizing English proficiency is to make it a part of citizenship since that is something that provides advantages to all immigrants, documented or not. That’s just one idea; I’m sure there are others. Put simply, I’m far more inclined to incentives that are attached to some status or benefit as opposed to those that limit means of communication between the government and those in its jurisdiction.

There are certainly many Latinos who learn English, but in concentrated Latino areas there is a strong trend to speak spanish only and little incentive to learn English when there is such a strong desire to keep culure, language, etc.

If there isn't incentive in one's choice of a job, then it's true there isn't much existing incentive for undocumented workers to learn English now. That's why including it in a path to citizenship – or as part of gaining some other status or benefit – for these immigrants is such a valuable idea, since it would create that incentive.

There are so many single language Spanish speakers in the US that we are offering every thing Government related in English and Spanish? Instead of talking methods, ideas, proposals on how to deal with that, he then said and I apologize for paraphrasing 'but Americans should learn Spanish' or be bilingual.

First off, not everything that’s government-related in this country is published in multiple languages. Second, Obama used English-only laws as a pivot point for discussing the need to increase bilingual education in US schools, but the two are not explicitly related. In other words, Obama isn't saying we should put the onus of communication on Americans by forcing them to learn Spanish as a means for helping undocumented immigrants. He was saying, rather, that learning a second language is a valuable skill that would help native-born Americans in many ways, so that is more worth our time than finding ways to enact English-only laws.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the discussion Seth. It sounds like we just disagree on some of the points. For instance, your interpretation of Obama's meaning sounds an awful lot like mine when I said he used two unrelated ideas and mixed them to make his points sound better. Assuming you are more correct than I, his words were then intentionally or unintentionally over the heads of the average American and certainly(purposely? I doubt it.) left wide open to misinterpretation and negative spin by opponents and cynics. Further, and this is also only my opinion, if he means "They'll learn English..." by themselves with little to no more Government help than they are currently receiving I would like to know how that is going to be accomplished because I doubt(no, I will guarantee) it will not be to cut back federal Government intervention and deliver power to local authorities.

This was also bad psychology if he was trying to hook independents. People are lazy so it is human nature to resent other people having an easier time than them. It is a gut reaction ignored by happy people all the time, but it is part of most people's psyche. To sound like you are saying that all the single language spanish speakers are just going to start speaking english, when we know not speaking english is a problem in many urban areas, despite all the money and curricula we put in to our public schools, and then to sound like you are saying Americans should learn Spanish is...naive? a bad idea?(see no name calling) Everyone knows that there are a lot of illegal immigrants in this country. (If they assimilated at least to the extent of learning English, I could care less) It sounded like he was talking about 'English only' being a bad idea, then if you weren't paying very close attention (even if you were in my opinion) it SOUNDED like he was embarassed that Americans couldn't speak spanish and the real solution was for us to learn spanish.

Now an Obamanite can defend what he said and you have, intelligently. But an anti-Obamanite can just as easily tear this speech up. AND (and now we get to the laziness crux) for average independent Joe listening to that speech, it sounds like Obama is giving a pass to single language spanish speakers and trying to shame and/or put the onus on single language english speakers to correct the problem. It was not a good meaning/feeling to project unless he was trying to convince spanish speakers to vote for him. So, going back to the title of this post, either he missed the point or projected the wrong point.

Seth Zlotocha said...

Further, and this is also only my opinion, if he means "They'll learn English..." by themselves with little to no more Government help than they are currently receiving I would like to know how that is going to be accomplished because I doubt(no, I will guarantee) it will not be to cut back federal Government intervention and deliver power to local authorities.

Obama's immigration plan explicitly states making English proficiency a pre-requisite for getting on a path to citizenship. From his website: "Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."

for average independent Joe listening to that speech, it sounds like Obama is giving a pass to single language spanish speakers and trying to shame and/or put the onus on single language english speakers to correct the problem.

I guess we'll need to agree to disagree on this. My best evidence of the contrary is that Rick felt the need to water-down English-only laws -- which Obama explicitly stated -- to become "initiatives" like "english-only curriculums" in order to make his point. That's twisting.

Furthermore, to say Obama was suggesting native-born Americans learn Spanish as a means for assisting immigrants ignores the part where he says "Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English," which clearly means he's saying time is better spent focusing on other issues, along with his emphasis on teaching children -- "You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual" -- if he was offering it as a solution for immigrants he would've said everyone become bilingual and not just focus on bilingual education for children.

I think the only way someone can manipulate that to mean what Rick argues is if, like Rick, you have a pre-disposition against Obama and a desire to make others feel the same.

Here's the video of Obama speaking for those who are interested in seeing it in context.

Anonymous said...

You are correct. I am anti Obama and anti McCain and the quote:

"You need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about how can your child become bilingual"

does sound to me like 'Government has control of the situation with the spanish speakers, but to make it all fair, you go learn spanish, otherwise it wouldn't be fair, because, you know...everything has to be fair.'

To continue in fairness, the only part of Rick's article I actually agreed with was that people learn second languages mainly out of need. I also agree with the title because of that. Any person who moves to a foreign land NEEDS to learn its language. Americans do not NEED to learn another language. Will it enrich you? Sure. Will it help you if you visit a foreign country that speaks it? Sure, if you can afford it. Do not, however, equate enrichment with need. IF he wants to snag independents (and since I have rarely voted for a Republican and never yet a Democrat, I can be considered one) it would be perhaps wiser to chasten those who deserve it (in this case Legals and Illegals who don't even try to learn english) and cajole those who don't (in this case anyone who never bothered to learn a foreign language because they never made enough money to plan a foreign vacation or live in an area where no other language is spoken). To treat wrongdoers equally with law abiders is just a bad political move.
One other thing. You may call them 'undocumented workers' all you want, but what does that get us? Change the laws, great, it is too hard to get in here. It may pass it may not, but undocumented workers are here illegally. They know it too, what is the purpose of using the term 'undocumented worker' because I am pretty sure many illegals may want to become legal, 'undocumented worker' is an incentive to not become a citizen. Undocumented can mean untaxed, unfindable after an emergency room visit, untraceable if identified doing something illegal and above all else ok to be here as you are. Where is the good there outside of trying to make it more ok for them to vote illegally?
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

To treat wrongdoers equally with law abiders is just a bad political move.

Again, I guess we'll need to agree to disagree on whether this is a fair reading of what Obama said.

You may call them 'undocumented workers' all you want, but what does that get us?

What I'm trying to "get us" is an atmosphere that encourages these immigrants to feel more comfortable coming out of the shadows. It's true that will be more useful when there are legal incentives in place to encourage them to come forward, like a path to citizenship, but that doesn't mean there's no point in laying the foundation for that atmosphere now.

And I'm totally lost on the argument that referring to them as "illegal" is somehow going to encourage people to come forward more than referring to them as "undocumented"; citizenship is going to be just as attractive to those who sees themselves as "undocumented" as it is to those who see themselves as "illegal," and, as I mentioned above, the comfort level with coming forward to pursue that citizenship is going to be higher by using "undocumented." After all, unless the country intends to invest the resources necessary to actively pursue criminal charges (for the 55-60% who committed a crime by entering illegally) or deportation (for the 40-45% who just engaged in a civil violation by overstaying their visa) for the 11-12 million immigrants lacking the legal status to reside in the country -- and actually think that's a feasible goal even with infinite resources -- demanding they're called "illegal" as a means for motivation is nothing more than utilizing a hollow threat that breads division rather than assimilation.

Anonymous said...

I guess...Assume for the moment one has a conscience. Something that honest immigrants who just want to have a better life for their family may well have. When I am not in compliance with the law about something, it nags at me until I correct it because of my conscience. If I am breaking a rule that otherwise inconveniences me and does not harm others, my conscience gives me no qualms. I look at illegal as breaking a law, but being undocumented sounds more like a rule. Like most people, I project my beliefs on others in trying to understand them. After such a good back and forth conversation I will hardly accuse you of not having a conscience so I must ask: Agree with that or not, how is it you are 'totally lost' by the argument?

As for the answer, I admit I am at a loss. I do believe we should stop the flood of illegal immigration. I believe we should make immigration far easier, but that learning english be a prerequisite. To test it later is to have our current situation. You learn it, you come in and become a citizen, you don't, you just stay 'undocumented' no biggie. I do not favor trying to deport all illegals and that by default suggests some sort of amnesty, but we need to get the future rules set up and enforcable before it is enacted. I do think ALL Government benefits should ONLY go to legals.

My biggest problem is law breaking illegals(and I do not mean a parking ticket). Nobody wants them, and I certainly hate paying for incarceration, but giving them back to their country of origin is no solution either.
Tuerqas

Anonymous said...

Reading my comment after it is posted, the glaring irony in 'law breaking illegals' is not lost on me. That said, I did mean perpetrators of any serious crime including violence, burglary, heavy drug dealing and the like.
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

Agree with that or not, how is it you are 'totally lost' by the argument?

The reason it's lost on me is because, for starters, I don't think many of those "honest immigrants" that you refer to think of themselves as consistent law-breakers who are doing something horribly wrong by living here in an attempt to give their families a decent life. They may see that they broke the law coming in or violated civil codes by overstaying their visa, but I don't think any of them view themselves as criminals in the same sense as a thief, mugger, extortionist, etc., who knows they are breaking the law on a consistent basis and doing so at the detriment of others.

Second, I think any motivation that comes from trying to make someone feel guilty by calling them "illegal" is more than outweighed by the divisive atmosphere that language creates.

What's more, even if they're honest, why would someone come forward if they think they'll be charged with a crime or deported, thereby ending their purpose for being here, which is to provide for their family? And, if the idea isn't to bring them out of the shadows to prosecute them, then what's the point of referring to them as illegal? That's what makes it a hollow threat when employed as a motivator.

I understand when someone argues that the term "illegal" should be used because it's true; that is, while not all are legally criminals (the 40-45% who are visa overstayers are committing a civil violation, not breaking a law), these immigrants have no legal status for residing in the country. I still don't agree with that view b/c of the atmosphere and hollow threat arguments I make above, and the fact is "undocumented" is accurate, too, and avoids those atmosphere and hollow threat problems, which is why I prefer to use it. But when it comes to defending the term "illegal" as a motivator, I can see how a logic can be applied to it, and it's not lost on me when in that vacuum as a standalone idea. It becomes lost on me, though, when it's presented as part of an argument that claims it's an effective motivator, let alone a more effective one than using "undocumented."

You learn it, you come in and become a citizen, you don't, you just stay 'undocumented' no biggie.

The "biggie" for those who choose to stay undocumented is that they miss out on all of the benefits of citizenship, which range from the ability to petition for family members to gain permanent residency to freedom of travel to freedom against deportation to strengthened employment opportunities to a whole host of others. I don't think many immigrants see passing all of that up as "no biggie."

And, what's more, calling them "undocumented" doesn't mean that if they break the law in some other way they won't face the same punishments as they would if referred to as "illegal." No one who advocates for the term "undocumented" does so as a means for changing the criminal laws or civil codes, but rather as a means for changing the atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

Well said, I admit I am moved towards your point of view. Now if only BO had your views...

This brings up another problem I have. There are many problems where I can identify with an intelligent liberal view as easily as an intelligent conservative view. I do not, however, believe that either Republican or Democratic politicians are espousing any of the potential solutions I discuss with the aforementioned intelligent people. I do not think any of the politicians are even moving in a direction close to paths discussed by people I consider intelligent. It doesn't seem to me that Democrats(the party) want to truly help people who need it because then they might make it and vote for keeping things that way. Similarly, Republicans couldn't vote for a tax payers bill of rights in Wis because they would lose the issue.

Everything in politics seems geared pretty exclusively towards party re-election.

Truth is, I do not identify with socialistic ideals(policy wise this is the mainstream Democratic view). I do not identify with the majority giving special privileges to any group defined as a minority. Much of the political correctness sweeping the western world is devoted to this. I understood it better when minorities were defined as race, creed or color(what is the difference between race & color in today's world anyway). But now there are other minorities like criminals, homsexuals, illeg...undocumented workers, that try to demand the same rights as 'everyone else'. I am sick to death of being a racist because I am white and non-liberal. This last part of our conversation has been a perfect example. Within a year or three, depending on who is elected, I will be labeled a racist against hispanics for using the term illegal alien. You successfully change 'the atmosphere' by the same shame you are accusing users of the phrase 'illegal alien'. Liberals will make illegal alien or illegal immigrant taboo phrases and brand anyone who doesn't keep up 'racist'. I may wrongly attempt to shame people here illegally by using those phrases. Liberals shame honest people in to making other's illegality okay so we can deal with it sensitively not necessarily sensibly.

I think your aim is misplaced, because it will be misused in a way described above and it does nothing to change the real situation.

I think we both agree that the laws and means to becoming a citizen need to be changed and enforcable laws put in place about new immigration FOLLOWED by some form of amnesty for illegals already in the US. Is using 'undocumented workers' supposed to change the average American's opinion of that class of people so we vote the new laws in or is it just supposed make the undocumented workers feel warm and fuzzy? If aimed at the average American, you are using the same tool you just condemned me for and said, eloquently, that it was a bad idea. As usual, being a straight white male, the burden will end up, mine not the parties responsible.
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

You successfully change 'the atmosphere' by the same shame you are accusing users of the phrase 'illegal alien'.

I certainly don't speak for all liberals, but I've never called anyone racist for using the phrase "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant." That's certainly not a prerequisite for using the phrase "undocumented immigrant" or even a necessary part of arguing for its usage (as I think I've shown here). And, as far as I know, Obama and many of the other Democratic politicians I respect (like Feingold) have never done so either. I'm sure some bloggers have, and probably even some more prominent liberals, and they should be criticized for that, but, again, it's not a pre-requisite for using the phrase or making the argument to use it.

But, while unfortunate, it's not like shame is an exclusive tactic of either side of the political divide; to be sure, some on the right use their version of patriotism as a bludgeon at least as much as some on the left can use political correctness in the same way.

Is using 'undocumented workers' supposed to change the average American's opinion of that class of people so we vote the new laws in or is it just supposed make the undocumented workers feel warm and fuzzy? If aimed at the average American, you are using the same tool you just condemned me for and said, eloquently, that it was a bad idea.

My reasoning for using that phrase, which I described above, has nothing to do with changing American public opinion (even if that was my purpose, though, it really wouldn't be the same as utilizing "illegal" as a hollow threat). And you can trivialize using "undocumented immigrants" to change the atmosphere by calling it an attempt to make immigrants feel "warm and fuzzy," but -- as I outlined in detail above -- there's a very tangible and substantial reason for doing it.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that Obama speaks neither language that he referenced in the speak - and by all accounts is only fluent in (english) rhetoric. Makes me think of Al Gore: http://www.americansforprosperity.org/index.php?id=6070

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that Obama speaks neither language that he referenced in the speech - and by all accounts is only fluent in (english) rhetoric. Makes me think of Al Gore: http://www.americansforprosperity.org/index.php?id=6070

Seth Zlotocha said...

I find it interesting that Obama speaks neither language that he referenced in the speech - and by all accounts is only fluent in (english) rhetoric.

Yeah, including his own account. Here's Obama a week ago: "We should want our children with more knowledge. We should want our children to have more skills. There's nothing wrong with that. That's a good thing. I know, because I don't speak a foreign language."

And note the focus on children. Again, Obama never said all Americans need to go out an learn a foreign language; he's saying it should be something that's emphasized for children in school.

Anonymous said...

"I certainly don't speak for all liberals, but I've never called anyone racist for using the phrase "illegal alien" or "illegal immigrant"

As I have said, most people on either side of the political fence who spend time on blogs like this do not participate in the worst aspects of the subjects posted. What I said was within a year or 3 those terms will become racist slurs. It is a prediction, though I have heard it smattered already, I believe the MSM will pick up on it.

"But, while unfortunate, it's not like shame is an exclusive tactic of either side of the political divide;..."

Preaching to the choir here. As I believe I stated above, I have only a miniscule amount of less contempt for Republicans than Democrats. Liberals and conservatives I can often respect, but everyone in office are geared to one thing...re-election.

"My reasoning for using that phrase, which I described above, has nothing to do with changing American public opinion..."

If not that, what is changing the 'atmosphere'? If you are saying that changing the 'atmosphere' is not the same as changing public opinion, not only am I accusing you of splitting hairs, but at the very least the only reason for changing the 'atmosphere' is to then change public opinion to get needed change passed.

"Yeah, including his own account. Here's Obama a week ago:"

I didn't write the comment, but I'm throwin' my opinion in anyway. It does not seem incongruous to me that Obama calls for emphasis on children being taught multi-lingualism while he was not. I agree with Seth on that and that is not my beef with the Obama quote. With the condition that education has fallen to in this country, I don't agree with giving public ed. the cash to fail that program. I do not think it is realistic to expect kids who won't learn english or more than basic math to learn a foreign language. On the priorities list for education, it is low on my list. Ridiculing 'no child left behind' (and its implementation does deserve ridicule) and then proposing everyone should learn a second language as if our schools are remotely capable of such a feat is the problem I have with the concept. To implement such a thing will cost tax payers a bundle (heaviest on already troubled home owners) for what results? The kids who do learn english are the same ones taking foreign language as electives. Or the hispanics who speak spanish at home, get their one feel good 'A' in spanish while failing english.
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

If not that, what is changing the 'atmosphere'?

It's aimed at making immigrants feel more comfortable coming out of the shadows when a process is in place for transitioning to citizenship. Being called "illegal" isn't going to make someone feel comfortable about coming forward. This isn't splitting hairs. To be sure, encouraging someone to use the phrase "undocumented immigrant" does involve an attempt to change someone's mind, but that's something different than the purpose of using that phrase (and, just a reminder, I didn't take issue with your use of "illegal immigrant" -- you took issue with my use of "undocumented immigrant," I just defended my usage of it).

then proposing everyone should learn a second language as if our schools are remotely capable of such a feat is the problem I have with the concept.

Simply because bilingualism will never be a universal skill for American children doesn't mean it shouldn't be encouraged.

To implement such a thing will cost tax payers a bundle (heaviest on already troubled home owners) for what results?

Obama wasn't proposing to implement anything. Foreign language education is already in place. Obama was just encouraging parents to encourage their kids to take it and take it seriously (as opposed to something they take for a couple of years in high school just to get into college).

Anonymous said...

"It's aimed at making immigrants feel more comfortable coming out of the shadows when a process is in place for transitioning to citizenship."

I am not sure I recognize the logic here. Isn't it then more important to get the laws passed first? And wouldn't changing public opinion and atmosphere be more important to effect those changes? After all, getting the laws changed and stating the conditions for amnesty then citizenship should encourage illegals to come forward all by itself, no further atmosheric conditioning needed. By your own words you know they can't come forward now so why 'encourage' them?

"(and, just a reminder, I didn't take issue with your use of "illegal immigrant" -- you took issue with my use of "undocumented immigrant," I just defended my usage of it)."

I fully admit this, and what I said from the beginning is 'I predict...' not 'you are calling me a racist.'

This is, in my opinion, an excellent example of why I took issue and why I take issue with so much PC. The intention of political correctness may be to change the atmosphere or change public opinion, but its use rarely has that effect. Try looking at the use of 'undocumented workers' for a moment. Between you, me, and the lamp post, I would never have figured out its intention was to have illegal workers come forward, because as you yourself just pointed out, under current laws the official response could well be to deport. It makes much more sense to put the horse in front of the cart and change public opinion (which disapproves of amnesty as a majority for varied reasons) to make some new policies that fit our current situation. As you have said, we can't reasonably deport, nor should we.

As it makes more sense, I think many people would interpret the advocated use of 'undocumented worker' as a means to change the opinion of the voters whose minds we are trying to change. That is my apparently erroneous interpretation, just think of what the crackpots will think up. As changing what we call groups of people (For instance, nigger, to negro, to black, to African American to...is there a current correct name?) is usually a sensitivity issue, why wouldn't most people interpret it to be just that, a sensitivity issue? Anyone who does make that misinterpretation will inevitably call others or be called by others racist against hispanics. That is still my prediction and why I think it.

As fas as Obama goes, if all he meant was 'encourage your kids to learn a foreign language' I reiterate it was a stupid thing to say politically right after talking about Hispanics learing English. If you want to capture some of the votes you don't already have, you don't dismiss single language spanish speakers by saying "they'll learn English" and then admonish parents to get their kids bilingual because its good for them enrichment wise. A 'problem' in American society is not currently that we are primarily monolingual english speakers, it is that by Government rules and regulations we are becoming bilingual because about 12% of the population (many of which are here illegally) are monolingual spanish speakers. Besides, either their kid is doing well in school and very likely has a foreign language, or their kid is not doing well and they are just hoping he learns that 'are you' is not actually spelled 'r u'.

See, you want to admonish the Hispanics to get their kids to speak English. They are already going to vote for you, and the swing voters will think, hey he knows the problem, maybe he has answers. Right now he is preaching to his own choir. That seems so elementary to me, should I become a campaign strategizer? Do people really not think about that as a basic concept of campaigning?
Tuerqas

Seth Zlotocha said...

Isn't it then more important to get the laws passed first?

As I stated above, "What I'm trying to 'get us' is an atmosphere that encourages these immigrants to feel more comfortable coming out of the shadows. It's true that will be more useful when there are legal incentives in place to encourage them to come forward, like a path to citizenship, but that doesn't mean there's no point in laying the foundation for that atmosphere now."

It makes much more sense to put the horse in front of the cart and change public opinion (which disapproves of amnesty as a majority for varied reasons) to make some new policies that fit our current situation.

For starters, polls actually show a wide majority of the public is in favor of a path to citizenship.

Second, I never said people who are invested in the immigration debate, who use the phrase "undocumented immigrant," aren't focusing on passing a law creating a path to citizenship, which would surely include attempts at widening the majority of the public who support amnesty. I just said I don't see the phrase "undocumented immigrant" as being a part of that effort, but rather as part of a related effort to change the atmosphere for immigrants.

As changing what we call groups of people (For instance, nigger, to negro, to black, to African American to...is there a current correct name?) is usually a sensitivity issue, why wouldn't most people interpret it to be just that, a sensitivity issue?

Most native-born Americans probably would just view the usage of "undocumented immigrant" as a sensitivity issue; my point is that it would mean something substantive to the immigrants its labeling.

As fas as Obama goes, if all he meant was 'encourage your kids to learn a foreign language' I reiterate it was a stupid thing to say politically right after talking about Hispanics learing English.

Again, we'll need to agree to disagree on the electoral impact of this. Neither of us can offer anything but speculation on the way "swing voters" will read this, if they'll read it, and whether they'll care much about it if they do, and clearly our respective speculation isn't the same.

See, you want to admonish the Hispanics to get their kids to speak English.

The vast majority of second-generation undocumented immigrants can speak English.

Anonymous said...

Well, according to your polls and reports, it looks like what you are doing is working. For what it is worth, I believe the majority of people in the US do favor a path to citizenship, I do not believe politicians will come up with a sensible plan that the majority of people will vote for any time soon on a referendum.

Having lived next to Little Havana in Miami for three years, I have to say I think the polls on English fluency is a pile of crap. IF the majority of second gen Hispanics can speak fluent English in Miami they hide it well. My brother-in-law says the same thing about San Diego. I admit I rarely believe self-interest related studies. The first line of the report states: Nearly all of the Hispanic adults born in the US of immigrant parents report they can speak English. This was done on a study of Hispanics from the Pew Hispanic center. I would guess very few of the surveyed were part of the gangs dominating many urban areas of the country or the parents and families of those people. However, everyone believes whatever sources that support their ideas so I won't go further than that. I think I can speak for the average American when I say we would prefer people who know how to speak English, to speak English in public, to not need any public message repeated in Spanish, etc.

To complete our circle, if they are all so proficient, we do not need ballots or anything else in Spanish. According to the 'everything's coming up roses report' legal Hispanics are 88 to 94% proficient and climbing. Quite honestly, that is way ahead of even the white person in the US according to public school progress reports. The parents do not have the right to vote anyway, but if they did, they would listen to their child just like they need to do for anything else not put in Spanish and English.

The circle is broken when they learn English so according to your report, your job is done and we can pack in all that English/Spanish crap...Yea! (I did read the part about where only 25% of first Gens can speak English, but again I say they are illegal. It is illegal to vote and get Government money, and participate in welfare. There should be an information source to these people in Spanish directing them to English classes and other programs designed to help them assimilate, but voting, for example, should be for people who have 'passed the test' as it were.)

Seth Zlotocha said...

The circle is broken when they learn English so according to your report, your job is done and we can pack in all that English/Spanish crap...Yea!

Being able to speak proficiently and read at a level the allows for solid comprehension of complex ballot measures or public notices are two different things.

But, if multi-lingual publications aren't necessary, local units are in the best position to make that determination for themselves as opposed to a blanket state or federal law.