Thursday, March 29, 2007

Driving privileges for illegal aliens -- or -- We have met the enemy and he is us

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois House has passed a bill that would effectively provide drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. The document wouldn't be called a driver's license -- it would be a special driver's permit -- but it would allow people who are not legal residents to legally drive on our streets. The bill is not yet law; it is now going to the State Senate for consideration.

This is a link to the General Assembly's website, showing the status of the bill and its sponsors. The actual text of the bill can be ascertained by following the links from this site.

This is not the first attempt by Illinois lawmakers to deal with the presence of illegal aliens among us. The Consular Identification Document Act, 5 ILCS 230/1, et seq. became effective on January 1, 2006. Essentially this act allows State and local agencies to accept identification cards issued by foreign consulates as proof of identity. Section 10(b) of the Act provides, "A consular identification document shall be accepted for purposes of identification only and does not convey an independent right to receive benefits of any type." Section 10(c) provides, "A consular identification document may not be accepted as identification for obtaining a driver's license or registering to vote." And Section 10(d) provides, "A consular identification document does not establish or indicate lawful U.S. immigration status and may not be viewed as valid for that purpose, nor does a consular identification document establish a foreign national's right to be in the United States or remain in the United States."

Thus, the matricula consular issued by the Mexican Consulate can not be used -- yet -- to obtain a driver's license... but it is designated by the State of Illinois as a lawful form of identification. Banks or credit card issuers can accept it. School districts must accept it. The police must accept it as a valid ID.

And can you guess a group that is loudly in support of this latest proposed accommodation for illegal aliens? Why police groups of course! This kind of documentation may make fewer drivers do stupid things during routine traffic stops. It may encourage more people to get insurance, to get safety inspections for their cars, it may cut into the black market for phony driver's licenses.

I know there are those who fear that aliens -- Mexicans in particular, because of their proximity -- are just colonizing the United States -- just taking over, completely overriding local authority like the barbarian tribes that took over huge swaths of the Western Roman Empire in its last years.

But I submit the following to you, ladies and gentlemen: This is just an example of how federalism works -- or doesn't work.

The State of Illinois has no right to control who lives here. It has to find ways to cope with the reality that now exists. It is the Federal government that is in charge of the national borders... and... for a variety of reasons... cynical, financial, political, the Federal government does not stop the flow of illegals across the borders.

This is not something new. It is not a Republican thing. It is a truly bipartisan national policy: There is a deeply held belief in the most important circles that the steady flow of immigrants is necessary to the health of the economy.

Of course, we could change our laws to conform the statutes to the reality that we see around us: To allow those who are sneaking across our borders to come here legally.

But -- and here's the rub -- if we did that, we'd have to pay them.

Our cynical politicians raise the minimum wage knowing that some Americans will lose their jobs because of it -- knowing that the pool for teenagers and other legal entry-level workers will shrink -- because there are plenty of Josés and Marias out there who will work for $4 an hour and never dare ask for a raise.

And some people blame the illegals. I don't. I suspect that most immigrants today -- even the illegals -- are not fundamentally different from those of our grandparents’ time. They come here to become Americans. To build a better life for themselves and their children. It's us — we Americans — who are different.

We don't want to give up our cheap lawn care. Or live-in nannies. We like dining out -- a lot -- so much that restaurants are springing up on every corner. Who's washing the dishes? Who's busing the tables? We don't care who's cleaning the stores at night. We're bargain conscious: If José and Maria will do these jobs for $4 an hour -- or, better still, $3.50 -- we say hooray.

We complain that not all immigrants learn English. And they don't. But I know I could never acquire real fluency in Spanish (I speak the John Wayne dialect) -- even if I were to move tomorrow to Mexico City. The late Pope John Paul II was a gifted linguist. But not all of us are.

The real problem is that we -- we Americans -- do not insist that the immigrants' children learn English. We Americans are squeamish about imposing our culture on people who come here. Hello? Why do you think they came? They came to be part of our culture -- just as your grandparents did.

I do not believe that immigrants coming here today want to recreate Poland or or Pakistan or Mexico or Ghana on these shores. Although I’m sure there may be exceptions, for the most part, they want to be Americans, just as our grandparents did. But Americans don't seem to know what an "American" is anymore.

We -- we Americans -- no longer celebrate being American (without hyphens). We celebrate our diverse heritage instead.

When my kids were in the Catholic grammar school, they were each (in turn) given an assignment: Write about your heritage and put "your country’s flag" on the cover.

And the first time it happened I tried to dig in my heels. You can write about your Irish ancestors or your Cuban ones, I said, but you put the Stars and Stripes on your cover because that's the flag of your country -- but that would only have gotten the child in trouble.

So when today's immigrants keep their languages and customs, at least at home, aren't they doing what the other Americans are doing? What the other Americans are taught to do? Particularly when we do not "force" their children to learn our language.

We -- we Americans -- are creating these foreign-speaking ghettos; we are creating rootless, stateless populations with whom we can not even communicate directly. We must work through intermediaries -- "community leaders" -- some of whom are leading the parade to keep kids from learning English... because, if they did, they might learn they didn't need those "leaders" any more.

In the 60’s we finally faced up to the fact that not everyone was included in the great American "Melting Pot." And we overcompensated and overreacted: Instead of mixing in the missing ingredients, we have settled for an increasingly lumpy stew. We all became hyphenated.

We can't blame immigrants for that. And we can change.

America is not just a place. It is an idea -- an ideal, actually -- that an opportunity to get ahead in the world is available to all. We need a common language to share this idea, so that all Americans can participate equally -- and not through intermediaries.

Did you know that English was almost rejected as our national language in favor of German? It was a close thing -- but, at the time of the Revolution, England wasn't nearly as popular here as it is now.

So it's not that English is so special. It just happens to be the language of our country. People come here to become part of this country need to learn -- to the extent they can -- the language of this country. They need to demand and insist that their children learn the language so that they can fully participate.

And as for controlling the borders? Let's enforce our immigration laws already on the books and put employers in jail for knowingly hiring illegals. When the CEO's of Fortune 500 companies start trading in tailored suits for prison overalls we'll see a true reduction in the demand for illegal workers. If José isn't sure that he'll get a job in the meat packing plant, he won't risk his life crossing the desert. If that really hurts our economy, well, then we'll have to look at our immigration policies again, won't we?


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well my friend, off the meds? this was an excellent post, well thought out and worded. (and just kidding about the meds, ha ha ha)

my grandparents came from italy on my father's side and would not allow italian to be spoken in the home, they had to speak english. now i do sort of wish we had all learned both, but i so respect their decisions.

smiles, bee

Linda said...

Very well written and very well said. While reading this post I could just picture you (even though I have no clue what you look like!) standing before a jury and doing a summation!

I have always held the belief that if you go to live in a foreign country, you learn to speak the language of that country. It's only good manners and it also helps you to know exactly what it is that people are saying about you. Amongst other things!

susan said...

Makes good sense to me!

Dave said...

A wonderfully written piece. I was going to put a link to something similar, among several, that I posted; but, my cutting and pasting skills are wanting. So you are left with cutting and pasting yourself if you want to read it.

As you started your post, you said you don't do much political and that the post was an exception. I don't see it as political; rather, you are engaging in common sense.

Hilda said...

Curmudgeon writes:

"So when today's immigrants keep their languages and customs, at least at home, aren't they doing what the other Americans are doing? What the other Americans are taught to do? Particularly when we do not "force" their children to learn our language."

I don't know what's going on where you live, but as one of "their children" (my parents came from Cuba in 1961, two years before I was born)and one who grew up in Miami, for the mostpart in the Little Havana section and went to a school established by Cubans primarily for Cuban-American children - I can tell you point-blank that of course we (my generation of Cuban-Americans) were forced to learn English. And today I speak and write English better than many "American Americans".

Before I was old enough to go to school, I was taken care of by my Spanish grandmother who didn't speak English. I watched TV in English and when my parents came home I was read to in English (both my parents learned English in Cuba and were fully bilingual). However, once I went to school and formally learned English, I had to speak Spanish at home - if I spoke to my parents in English they wouldn't respond until I spoke Spanish. Because of that (and a very aggressive Spanish language education in elementary school)I am 100% bilingual and make a tidy freelance income doing translations.

I simply don't believe there are a significant number of immigrant parents (legal or illegal) who don't want their children to learn English - that makes no sense. I live in a city with immigrants from all over - primarily Latin America, but from the Middle East, Europe Africa and Asia as well - and *all* children in both private and public schools are taught English, it's not an option it's a requirement.

Do I maintain Cuban customs? Absolutely, and now my "Anglo" husband does as well. Am I a "hyphenated American"? Yes, I am, by choice. Why? Because I am different than a child born to "Anglo" parents and raised in an "Anglo" community. My Cuban background affects the way I perceive reality, how I react to situations, how I think and feel.

Am I less of an "American" because I'm hyphenated? Absolutely not.

I completely agree with your assertion that employers should be held responsible for illegal immigration. In the case of Mexicans, the vast majority aren't risking their lives to come here because we have better TV - they're coming here to earn money for themselves and to send back to their families. If the job avaialability stops, they won't come illegally. But then again, if they don't come illegally they can't be paid sub-minimum wages and work in deplorable conditions.