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Accents Are Not Illegal

This isn't the blog entry I had planned to write today, but here it is anyway.  Maybe I'll get the other one done later this evening, but for now, wanted to write a little more about illegal immigration, and accents.

In college, I was lucky enough to have for an instructor a professor who was from Germany, and yes, he taught in the English department.  This marvelously erudite man led his class on a dance through the history of the English language, from proto-Indo-European to modern English, telling us of our language's Germanic trunk and limbs and its Latin foliage and Greek blossoms.  His lectures wandered all over modern Europe, linking languages and historical events as he went.  No one, native English speaker or not, had any trouble understanding his English, accented though it was.  And maybe, because English was not his native language, he never, ever took its magic and flexibility and breadth for granted but instead celebrated all of it, welcoming us to the feast of words as he did.

In third grade, I had a Texan for a teacher.  Mrs.A. was a big, homely woman with facial hair and a gap-toothed grin and no sense of style that I can remember, but she was the warmest, kindest, most loving and accepting teacher I'd ever had until then and after the first day of class, I couldn't see her homeliness for the kindness that shone beyond and through it.  My two younger sisters were also lucky enough to get her for the third grade.  Everyone loved her, but you know what?  Sometimes we had trouble understanding her.  She kept talking about keeping pigs in pins, which we couldn't figure out at all, because we knew people didn't keep pigs in pins.  Finally she wrote it down, "p-e-n-s."  Oh, then it made sense.  Things like that came up occasionally, where we wouldn't understand a word or a phrase, but she always found a way to make whatever it was clear to us.  Her accent did get in our way sometimes, but my childhood would have been a much colder place without her in it.

And yes, of course, if someone has such a heavy accent that they can't pronounce English words properly or be understood by native English speakers, that person should not be teaching English.  But that is an issue of intelligibility, not just of an accent.

And now back to illegal immigration:

I don't blame illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America or some of the South American countries from wanting to come here.  If I were a Mexican peasant with children to feed and teach and launch upon the world, I'd be heading north just as fast as I could.  That Mexico uses the United States as a pressure valve instead of doing more to re-do its political system is a problem to be dealt with at the highest diplomatic levels--it's nothing that a Mexican peasant or an Arizona rancher is going to be able to fix. 

The draw is the chance to make it economically, and to have children go to our schools.  No one crosses the border out of a burning desire to wash dishes or pick avocados, they cross the border because washing dishes and picking avocadoes pays more than they could earn back home.

I think the problem on this American end needs to be dealt with first and foremost with the employers.  I worked with someone once who had personal ties to a small business.  This person complained vociferously about the unfairness of the fine that business had to pay when it was discovered to have hired undocumented workers.  You know what that fine was?  One hundred dollars.  A single Benjamin.  That employer saved more than that in a day or two by being able to hire each undocumented worker.  And that's supposed to be a deterrent?  (And the person doing the complaining knew darned well what fake id's looked like.)  You've got to fix the leaky pipe before you try to repair the flood damage to the building, and the jobs on this end are what keep that pipeline open.

When I worked for social services, we would enter an immigrant's information from his or her green card into a computer system and within three days get a printout back telling us if that person had legal status or not.  Three days.  Occasionally we would get a request to submit secondary verification--maybe something had been entered incorrectly, or the immigrant was in one of the many minor categories of immigrants who were here legally but who weren't legal permanent immigrants.

If social services could get that info in three days, in a secure system, why can't employers?  Give them access to it.  And then fine the H*** out of them if they hire someone who doesn't clear the system after secondary verification procedures are instituted.  One little Benjamin per immigrant isn't going to do it.  Make it cost a lot, and make the fine go up for repeat offenses.  

Another issue I have with those protesting illegal immigration so vociferously is the continued implication by that side that illegal immigrant = Mexican/Central American.  Illegal immigrants come from every country in the world.  I've met illegal immigrants from South Africa and Mongolia and all points in between.  I've met illegal immigrants from Great Britain and Germany and Japan and even. . . . . .wait for it. . . . . . . . . .wait. . .for. . .it. . . . . . . . . . . .from CANADA.  Yes, I've met an illegal immigrant from Canada. 

***Note to the Arizona police:  Illegal immigrants come in white, too.

It's a federal issue and a business issue and a diplomatic issue that is too big and too complex to be dealt with by making brown-skinned people afraid to walk down the street and banishing accented speakers from English classrooms.

And as far as the argument, "if you have nothing to hide, what do you have to worry about?"  Anyone who even thinks of uttering a sentence like that deserves to go live under a totalitarian government--North Korea would do nicely.  I'm an American and I have a right to privacy--I won't even get a Safeway card under my name because the thought of having Safeway track what's in my cupboards creeps me out.  (My savings card for CVS pharmacy is for Jane Doe of California.)  And yes, after 9/11, I read an article in the LATimes about the FBI looking for suspects by tracking falafel purchases.  Big Brother is alive and well and I'm doing everything I can to thwart his glances my directions.