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.