Lack of assimilation helps to fuel prejudice

by Jim Longworth

Once upon a time, immigration was the No. 1 hot-button issue in America. Then came 9-11, the recession, massive job layoffs, exorbitant health insurance premiums and the escalation of two wars. Now, despite the fact that none of those problems have been resolved or reformed, immigration is once again our No. 1 obsession, in part because it exacerbates the other matters.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, those of us lucky enough to have a job foot the bill for illegal aliens to the tune of $2.2 billion each year on food assistance programs, $2.5 billion on Medicaid and anywhere from $11 billion to $22 billion on welfare.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that we have been spending about $12 billion per year on primary and secondary education for children who are here illegally, and who cannot speak English.

Those who cross our borders illegally are also putting a strain on the criminal justice system, while putting American citizens at risk. In fact, the crime rate among illegal immigrants here in the United States is two and a half times that of our legal population. Thirty percent of all federal prison inmates are illegal aliens, and it costs American taxpayers about $3 million per day to incarcerate them. And if you want something else to fret about, criminologist Deborah Schurman-Kauflin says there are 240,000 illegal alien sex offenders now residing in the United States, and that during the period of her 88-month study, she estimates that they committed over 960,000 crimes.

In all, it is estimated that illegal aliens cost American taxpayers over $300 billion each year, and that just doesn’t sit well with citizens who are out of work, have no health insurance and who have faced foreclosure.

It’s no wonder, then, that politicians, some of whom are running for re-election this year, have jumped on the xenophobic bandwagon. For example, gubernatorial candidate Tim James declared that if he was elected, Alabama would no longer issue DMV exams in 12 different languages. Said James in a recent TV commercial, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it!” And last week, several towns in New York adopted Englishonly ordinances, proving that anger over illegal immigrants isn’t confined to the South.

But the most controversial steps have been taken by officials in Arizona. First the legislature there passed a new immigration law that allows police to stop anyone who looks illegal. Then, the state school board placed a ban on the teaching of ethnic studies. These initiatives captivated public interest and divided the nation. Elective bodies in cities like Los Angeles and Minneapolis declared a boycott of Arizona, while Chicago area’s Highland Park High School refused to let its girls’ basketball team travel to the Grand Canyon State for an away game. That action sent Sarah Palin on the warpath, who accused the school of hypocrisy. Last week Palin told a crowd in Rosemont, Ill. that Highland Park refused to let their team play in Arizona, but still planned to send a group of female students on a trip to China later this year. Said Palin, “You know how they treat girls in China? It makes no sense.”

She’s right. And political gridlock isn’t helping to clear up the confusion. Liberals oppose police-state tactics in dealing with illegal aliens, yet they have no solution for dealing with the negative economic impact that the illegal population is having on our nation. Conservatives, meanwhile, see detention and deportation as a solution, yet seem to have no regard for human rights.

The fact is that the majority of those who enter our country illegally are law-abiding, hardworking people. Sadly, they are often grouped with sex offenders, drug dealers and other undesirables. But make no mistake, these innocent illegals are also to blame for the current climate of prejudice against them. The reason is because they are unwilling to assimilate.

Politicians who defend the rights of foreigners to enter our borders illegally always invoke the image of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and talk about America as a melting pot. But what these apologists forget is that our nation was built by LEGAL immigrants, whose first task was to learn to speak English. Today a vast majority of immigrants, both legal and otherwise, cling to their own language, and that lack of assimilation angers many Americans, and only helps to fan the flames of hatred, mistrust and unrest.

Teddy Roosevelt believed that the best immigration policy was one which consisted of both compassion and assimilation. Said TR, “[I] t is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin… but there can be no divided allegiance here. We have room but for one flag. We have room but for one language, and that is the English language.”

Roosevelt spoke those words in 1907, but his sentiments are still applicable today, so long as we work together — and that means toning down our rhetoric, and increasing our level of understanding. In other words, we all have some assimilating to do. Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).