THE DRY CLEANERS – “Is my black suit ready? The one with the ketchup and bird droppings that needed cleaning in a desperate way? And is the canvas hanging bag repaired, the one that got ripped when an American Airlines row of seats landed on it?”
The clerk smiles at me. “Done rango mood sausage.”
These days I need subtitles when I do business with my valet, dry cleaners and most other clerks, cab drivers and muggers. America, and especially Texas, are awash with foreign-born, each speaking only their dialect of Mazandarani.This is not a bad thing except when I’m trying to get my done rango mood sausage.
We should not be surprised at the size of this melting pot, nor do we need to make any apologies for our immigration laws. In 2006, the last year I can find, we accepted more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined. Give me your huddled masses: Nearly 14 million immigrants entered the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. Today we house 43 million foreign-born, or 13.5 percent of the total population. This is not a historic high – 100 years ago the figure was 15 percent. Indeed, we are not tops among all nations – in Canada it’s 17 percent and the Aussies have 24 percent. Still, we’ve got a lot.
Some of these are legal newcomers – last year 694,193 immigrants were naturalized as U.S. citizens, down from more than 1 million in 2008. Of these, 52,927 are newly minted Texans. I always like those photos of proud, new Americans holding up their right hand, often grasping an American flag in the left, swearing their allegiance to the Constitution, the IRS and the NFL.
The problem is our illegals. ICE estimates there are 11.6 million of them, and of these, 6.8 million, or 59 percent, are Mexicans. In Texas we have about 1.8 million illegal aliens, slightly less than the populations of Dallas and Fort Worth combined. These estimates are sort of silly. If the feds know how many undocumented residents (don’t you love that euphemism) live here, why don’t they do something? It’s like when the DEA agents say they only intercept 15 percent of the illegal drugs coming in. There is no way on earth they can know. It’s a meaningless figure.
Whatever the number, the border-busters don’t play by our laws. In effect, we are telling them, “The first rule of America is: you don’t have to obey the rules.” Every now and again we read about poor Ivan or Juan or Pierre. “He’s been here 25 years. Why deport him now?” If the longer you break the law the less guilty you are, then a robber who holds up 25 Wells Fargo banks is less guilty than someone who only loots one. Incidentally, the Obama administration has deported far more illegal alien criminals than any other President we’ve had.
Immigration has lost its panache as a hot button for most of us. Not too long ago surveys showed it was a top priority among American voters. The problem has now slipped down among our concerns between swine flu and double parking. Besides, it is frustrating to wonder how secure are our borders after all the money we’ve spent. Last year in El Paso, after noticing an increase in morning foot traffic, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection assigned a special lane to students who cross between 7 and 9 a.m., a result of a push by Mexican parents to place their children in American schools. One 18-year-old girl said that all 25 classmates in her school lived in Ciudad Juárez. It is believed that 800 to 1,400 students a day pass back and forth across the border. No wonder our schools are underfunded. True, these youngsters aren’t staying – until college when they get in-state tuition. Maybe we have express lanes for coyotes smuggling in eight youths or less.
This student matter brings us to the DREAM act, which is for youngsters who came here illegally but have stayed out of trouble, gone to school or the military. The act gives them two years amnesty, by any other name. I’ve got this cynical theory. We see lines of these kids who fill out a form for ICE: name, address, phone number, daytime location, photo and swear they are in this country illegally. Then the feds know exactly how to round up a couple million applicants and say, “Just step into this bus marked Matamoros.”
What do Andrew Carnegie, Bob Hope and Albert Einstein have in common? They were all immigrants, as were Irving Berlin, Elizabeth Taylor and more than 40 members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. I am all for legal entries of immigrants, which add a rich diversity to our culture. (Students at the Houston ISD speak 84 different languages.) We all love St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Mafia movies. Besides, remember that some of the original Anglo-Texans were actually illegal immigrants. But today’s newcomers should arrive with the proper papers, and fit in as soon as possible to take their place in our society, voting and even holding office. Still, how can we, in good conscience, have bilingual ballots? Those who can’t speak decent English are doomed to rake our leaves, bus our tables and become governor of California.
When in Rome, speaka de Italiano. In Cyprus, speak Cyp. When I visit South Africa I speak southern: y’all, corn my pone and damnyankee. It is only proper to show respect for our hosts. So why is it that foreigners sneak in here, stay for years, and still can’t split a definitive pluperfect in the nominative case? I blame our teachers. Assimilate, or go home. Once, when flying back from Paris to Houston, our plane went right over Montreal. I turned to a Frenchman sitting next to me and said, “Do you know that Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world?”
He nodded and replied, “Yes, and isn’t it a shame.”
Ashby is non-lingual at firstname.lastname@example.org