Friday, April 30, 2010

Immigrants: Ruining America Since 1607

Maine has a reputation for not being friendly to outsiders. It turns out we could learn a thing or two from Arizona and Alabama.

Arizona, as you probably know, just passed a law saying you can be jailed if you aren't carrying your driver's license with you.

Oops, I meant to say, you can be jailed if you don't have your ID with you and you have brown skin and an accent.

Under the new law, local police are required to arrest and detain any "suspected" illegal immigrants, with the word "suspected" being defined as "you guess is as good as mine."

You can potentially avoid the arrest by producing your immigration documents or some form of state ID. Forgot it at home? Tough luck.

If a state government wanted to authorize police to arrest anyone, regardless of skin color, for not carrying ID, the libertarians and tea baggers would have a fit and fall in it, as my mother used to say.

Complicating the issue is the fact that there are plenty of people who don't want immigrants to be able to get driver's licenses in the first place.

Tim James, candidate for governor of Alabama, just released a TV ad pledging to offer driving tests in English only if he gets elected. Currently, Alabama offers the tests in a dozen different languages.

"This is Alabama," James drawls. "We speak English. Learn it."

So much for Southern Hospitality.

Have you ever tried to learn a language? It can take years to become proficient in a new tongue, especially one as inconsistent and bizarre as English. It's even worse if you're trying to learn it in a Southern accent.

I hate to point this out, Tim, but the "English" you speak in Alabama doesn't really sound like any English I'm familiar with. You sound like a race of people descended from the love child of Jeff Foxworthy and Droopy Dog. (Google it, kids)

That places many legally naturalized U.S. Citizens at a disadvantage if they haven't been here long enough to master this peculiar version of our language.

Historically speaking, many immigrants (I know your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, Tim, but for some of us, this is kind of personal) did not learn English instantly upon crossing into the United States. They gradually picked up enough to get by.

I'm probably not being very fair here. Maybe this isn't really about racism and xenophobia.

For example: Here in Maine, some of our signs have French translations. Have you noticed that the only places where we bother to translate the signs are where they point to tourist money pits like Old Orchard Beach?

You see, there are two types of foreigners: those with money, and those who need money.

If the average non-English speaker in Alabama made $85,000 a year, something tells me Tim James would be happy to let them take their driving tests in Klingon, if it suited them.

No, this is really about class. We're talking about legal American citizens who maybe haven't managed to master English instantly upon crossing the border. In Arizona they could be arrested and jailed for going for a walk without their ID or immigration papers, and in Alabama, walking might turn out to be the only transportation available to them a year or two from now.

"Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" -- as long as they look and talk like we do.


Susan said...

Good one.

Seth said...

Are you trying to lose your column with the tea baggers comment?