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Monday, April 8, 2013

Those Darn Illegal French People

Some days there is stuff that shows up in my mailbox that is so delicious and so easy to take a shot at that I have to sit on it for a few days lest I say something I will later regret.  It's called "restraint of pen and tongue." Or to put it another way, I try to engage brain before tickling the keyboard.

Think Progress published this little news item last last month: Top Republican Warns of French People Illegally Crossing the Mexican Border into Texas.

In a local radio interview Texas Senator John Cornyn said:

“You gotta stop the flow of people coming across and my friends and your friends Ed who have places in South Texas tell me, as a matter a fact a guy told me last night, he said we’ve got people coming across our place speaking Chinese, French and basically all of the languages in the world, coming through and across our southern border.”

Oh, my goodness.  Stop the presses and call out the Army.  The horror and the temerity of people speaking other languages trying to get into the U.S.!  And some of them even speak French - you know those folks who didn't back that highly successful U.S. invasion of Iraq?  Who knew that they would later be swarming over the border from Mexico to take advantage of all the benefits the U.S. has to offer like that high unemployment rate and those oh-so-generous social welfare benefits?  (So wonderful compared to places like Canada and Europe.)

You know, some politicians should not be allowed out in public without a handler.  After I was able to stop laughing every time I read the article I tried to seriously consider what he said (took a few days) and to be fair.  Here are a few things I came up with - what he was trying to say and why I think it was so wrong on so many levels:

French Speakers:  OK, he was not specifically targeting people from France.  French-speakers can be found the world over in many countries including some in North America:  Canada, Haiti are two that come to mind immediately.  Still, he is saying that French speakers are a part of the illegal immigrant "problem" in the U.S. along with the Chinese and others.  I have a problem with that.  Sure migration is becoming more international but targeting a particular population as being particularly doubtful and scary because of the language they speak is pretty dumb.  

French-Americans:  Does not seem to have occurred to him that there are French-speakers who are Americans.  My great-grandmother born into a French Canadian community in Rick Lake, Wisconsin, comes to mind as do my children who are bi-lingual French/English.  How nice to know that they could become objects of suspicion if they dare to speak French if they try to cross the border into the US from Mexico.  There is no official language in the U.S. and as an American citizen I will speak any damn language I like when I cross that border (and when I'm actually inside the country) and if that gets me in trouble, to hell with my compatriots who don't like it.

Local Politicians:  These guys and gals need to get out more and that is just as true of France as it is of the U.S.  Expand their social circles and maybe even get out of the country once in awhile.  Senator Cornyn's biography on his website does not list any other languages spoken as part of his achievements.     He may very well be an "articulate and powerful voice for conservative values" but no indication that this anything other than a mono-lingual voice.  That's kind of scary given how many of his constituents speak Spanish and other languages.

That said, I'm sure he is probably a fine person and I wouldn't for one moment cast aspersions on his character.  But as U.S. politicians debate immigration, they really need to watch what they say and consider the larger context outside the U.S.  It's not just the domestic audience, ladies and gentlemen of the U.S. Congress, that you have to worry about, it's also an international audience:  U.S. citizens and their children abroad, potential migrants like those much-coveted STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) folks (and gee how many French speakers are going to feel welcome after listening to THAT) and the millions upon millions of French speakers in the world who have no intention whatsoever to come to the U.S. legally or illegally but who just might be a little annoyed at being singled out by a local politician as possible lawbreakers or bad influences.  

Enough said.  That politicians do and say dumb things is not new.  I do hope, however, that a few in the U.S. Congress get a clue and start looking beyond their own very limited and parochial experience as they contemplate how to fix their broken system.  Because if they don't, their new immigration system will be every bit as bad as the old one.


David M said...

The US have become less appealing for STEMs for quite some time already. As a matter of fact I have quite a few American colleagues here in Europe who fled the U.S. partly because of the social/political climate there. I would not have said the same thing 20 years ago.

David M said...

The US have become less appealing for STEMs for quite some time already. As a matter of fact I have quite a few American colleagues here in Europe who fled the U.S. partly because of the social/political climate there. I would not have said the same thing 20 years ago.

Ellen Lebelle said...

And one wonders that my husband dislikes going to the States (since 2003)!

Blaze said...

Don't forget Congress renamed French Fries Liberty Fries (or maybe it was Freedom Fries when France refused to
invade Iraq.

It's OK for United States of Arrogance to bomb and invade a sovereign country that did NOT have weapons of mass destruction.

But it's not OK for peaceful tourists speaking French, Spanish or Urdu to visit US without suspicion and harassment.

Why do we wonder why they refuse to understand the impact of FATCA?

P. Moore said...

You bring up very valid points. It is sad these guys simply don't get it. Worse, however is the fact that these Congress fools make it so easy to criticize them.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@David, That is exactly what I'm hearing. 20 years ago it seemed that everyone I met in IT wanted to go to the US. Now it's the US AND Canada AND Asia. Today I also meet young Americans who are leveraging their European roots and getting dual citizenship so they can work in an EU country. Times have changed.

@Ellen, Wow, that's a long time. :-) My husband went a few years aback and when he was meeting with some old friends he made a joke about the Iraq war - thought he's lighten up the atmosphere. Needless to say, the Americans were less than amused.

@Blaze, Oh the "Freedom Fries" thing had our entire household rolling on the floor laughing. It was so juvenile, it was impossible to take seriously.

@P. Moore, I hope I wasn't too hard on the senator. OK, it was a really stupid thing to say but he's not alone on either side of the Atlantic. "Politican" is a career where all aspirants have an equal opportunity to be public idiots and to embarrass their countries on a regular basis. :-)

Blaze said...

@Victoria: Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast were even mentioned under Item (It Happened Here)in the article Ten Things To Remember About Iraq

Freedom Fries made the report along with The Vets, the Iraqi Price (at least one American has thought about that!), the US Cost (human and economics), billions in fraud, Abu Grahib and Bush Lied.

While you and many of us around the world laughed about Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, it is terrifying that the folks who thought that was an appropriate response were the very people approving and carrying out the invasion of a sovereign nation.

When we see the level of intelligence of some members of Congress on this, we understand why wars like Iraq and Vietnam happen. And, we also get a glimpse of why Congress insists on a FATCA attack on "US persons."

Of course, new US Secretary of State John Kerry (Gasp! He speaks French!) did tell German university students recently that Americans have "the right to be stupid."

Strange I don't recall that being in U.S. Constitution. I do remember learning US was founded based on no taxation without representation and the right to choose citizenship. How far from that we have come.

If only Congress had attended the same history classes that we did!

Tim said...

I just posted this on Allison Christians blog but I want to post it here:

One more thing I'll add and its something I don't think many US citizens are aware of is that no OTHER country in the entire world gives US citizens the right of abode. What does that mean. Well any citizen of the 27 EU Member states by right can live and work in another EU member states. These arrangement also extend to the EFTA(Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) and bilaterally to Switzerland. Similar arrangements exist in the Carribean Community and are being proposed/developed in the ASEAN(Southeast Asia), Mercosur(South America), and Eurasia(Russia + former soviet republics). Australia and New Zealand also have a bilateral immigration agreement along these lines. Canadians used to have the right of abode in the UK too.

Now of course there are many other nationalities in the same boat as the US but for much of the world and really almost all of developed world most citizens have the "right" to live in some other country free of most restriction. I don't think sometimes we understand how this plays out into citizenship based taxation vis a vis other countries. People don't like their "rights" being taken away but Americans have never had the "right" to live in another country in the way other nationalities have had.

Tim said...

There was also interesting proposal along these lines:

We believe there is a simpler, fairer and more efficient solution that won't get bogged down in the "path to citizenship" debate. Rather, it will unlock the enormous potential of North America's labor pool:

Take the final logical step of the North American Free Trade Agreement—and allow the citizens of the U.S., Canada and Mexico to work legally in any of the three countries, making the U.S. border as open to workers as it has been for nearly two decades to goods and investment.

In one market-based move, which President Obama could negotiate with America's Nafta partners and submit to the Senate for ratification, the U.S. could solve a huge part of its immigration problem while breathing new life into North American trade.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Time, Excellent point and one I hadn't thought of. Yes, US citizenship doesn't get you much if you are thinking about migrating. Not too many options except perhaps for Canada.

I've talked to just arriving Americans here in France and some have been genuinely surprised that they have to go through exactly the same process as, say, someone from central Africa. No points given for coming from the US. :-) This is rather humbling. One American fellow I talked to said that the whole experience (and boy the French authorities were rough on him) changed his entire outlook on the immigration debate in the US. Funny how becoming an immigrant totally changes your view about immigration. :-)