April 17, 2006

Learn English?

Category: Politics :: Permalink

Every now and then, especially in connection with the current controversy about immigration here in the United States, I hear someone say that all immigrants should have to learn English. No English, no immigration. “If they’re going to come to our country,” someone might say, “they should have to learn to speak our language.”

Really? Why?

It certainly would do nothing to preclude terrorists from immigrating. If learning English were a requirement for immigrating, learning English would be one of the first things a terrorist would do.

So what is the reason (in people’s minds) for this requirement? Do immigrants need to learn English so that they can communicate? What if all the people they want to communicate with speak their own language? If you spoke and understood nothing but Dutch, for instance, you could still get along pretty well if you lived, say, in Neerlandia, Alberta, where a high percentage of the people in the community speaks or understands Dutch.

Do they need to learn English so that they can understand the laws of the land? Well, no. You can learn the laws of the United States by reading a translation.

What, really, is the point of requiring immigrants to learn English? I just don’t understand it. More than that, it seems to me that such a requirement would be not only unnecessary but also unjust.

Elderly people often have a very hard time learning a new language; in fact, elderly people tend to revert to the language of their childhood anyway. Making learning English a prerequisite for immigration would mean that you’d have to tell a man that he can’t sponsor his elderly mother to come and live with him and his family unless she first learns English, which isn’t likely to happen. Is that righteous?

Mentally handicapped people would not be able to meet this requirement. But then, neither would a lot of people. Lots of people aren’t good with languages. And lots of people don’t have the time, money, or opportunity to take classes.

The requirement for immigrants to learn English, then, it seems to me, would preclude a lot of elderly people, mentally handicapped people, developmentally challenged people, and other people who don’t have the ability, time, money, or opportunity to learn English from immigrating to the United States. Which is to say that it would also preclude many people who are needy or poor from immigrating, not because they wouldn’t be good citizens, not because they wouldn’t work hard, but simply because they can’t afford English classes or aren’t good with languages.

Again I ask: Is that righteous? Is it merciful? Is it necessary? What’s the reason people keep proposing this strange requirement?

Posted by John Barach @ 12:46 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply