If we’re going to get anywhere in this looming immigration debate, we’ve got to start in the same room, using words we all understand. I don’t mean this in a figurative sense, I mean it literally.
There is enough political pressure from both political parties to do immigration reform this year; maybe even have it done and sitting on the President’s desk by the Summer.
Say what you will about the Republican Party’s motivation for seeing this thing through (self preservation is the mother of all motives), we haven’t been this close to sorting through the nuance-thicket since, well, ever. So there is reason for optimism, albeit with a pinch of reservation that the extremes of political ideology can somehow hijack the process and derail the reform momentum.
But in order for this thing to work to the satisfaction of all sides, and in order for the process to work smoothly and efficiently, several things must be agreed to beforehand. Definitions are stubborn things. Everyone involved in the debate – from people on Capitol Hill, to people in the media and the folks sitting round your kitchen table or work break room – should use the same words and ideas to mean the same things. I’m not talking about a glossary of terms, I’m talking about political hot points, expressed in phrases, that set us off and keep us apart.
Take for instance “border security.” It’s a sticking point for conservatives and a prerequisite for any discussion from the right. It sounds easy enough, but when two intelligent people from opposite sides of the political dial clash on the issue they find they have distinct pictures in their heads about the meaning of the word. Who gets to decide when the border is secure, so we can all move along with our conversation? We need to agree about what border security looks like before we move on.
And what about the famous “line” that the undocumented are supposed to get at the end of? If we’re going to talk about the line and where people should be in it (no cut’s allowed), we should then also talk about how that line is not working. The line is broken. So lets fix the line that we want people to stand in. If we let people with $1 million cut to the front of the line, we shouldn’t criticize, vilify or criminalize those who rather than complain, ignore the line.
The “learn English” thing? Here’s my take: give it as a political freebee, a goodwill token in the pot. I don’t know of any immigrant, documented or not, who doesn’t want to learn English. It’s a given. Churches and non-profits that offer English classes have long waiting lists; Inglés Sin Barreras is a virtual gold mine on Spanish TV. This is one of those places where the left can cede the ground because there really isn’t much to cede. If the right wants to make English a sticking point, go for it, immigrants will learn English anyway. We’ll define it as a win-win. As the law now stands, you have to be 55 years of age or older to get an English competency waiver. So there’s really no change. This is one of those things where you agree to avoid the necios.
And then there’s the bucket. That big bucket that holds everything and everyone tagged as Latino, Hispanic, illegal alien, undocumented worker, immigrant, uneducated, and welfare dependent. It’s part of the great American immigration gauntlet for the largest and newest wave of immigrants to be vilified by others. And that’s what’s been happening to Latinos for several generations. But, look here: if the GOP is coming to the immigration reform table, it’s because of the people in the bucket. There’s power in the bucket. The ironic thing is that Latinos didn’t put themselves in it. It’s just another generalized, stereotyped definition. So if the GOP wants Latinos to play on their side, they’re going to have to unpack their definitions, shake them out, and throw away the bucket.
Believe me, this is going to be a difficult process. But, if we just agree to these four things before we begin the bickering, we can get it done quickly and everyone will be happier than not. Then again, define happy.