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Monday, July 14, 2008

Caminar una milla en sus zapatos!

Ken Kerr

In the past seven-and-a-half years, I have agreed with President Bush on one issue: Immigration Reform. Specifically, the following provisions of President Bush's Plan for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

*To Secure Our Border, We Must Create a Temporary Worker Program;

*We Must Bring Undocumented Workers Already In the Country Out Of the Shadows

*We Must Promote Assimilation into Our Society by Teaching New Immigrants English and American Values

Particularly encouraging was the president’s middle-ground approach to a very polarizing issue:

“The President Supports A Rational Middle Ground Between A Program Of Mass Deportation And A Program Of Automatic Amnesty. It is neither wise nor realistic to round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. But there should be no automatic path to citizenship. The President supports a rational middle ground.”

Here in Frederick, Maryland, the elected republican officials apparently don’t agree with the president and me.

Frederick County Commissioners Charles Jenkins and Lenny Thompson, as well as Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, are three elected officials who have taken a hard line against undocumented county residents. None will admit political motivation in taking on locally what is a federal issue. None of these fiscal conservatives seem bothered by the waste of time and money on issues that the Court has clearly placed outside their jurisdiction.

They are clearly overstepping, and I don’t believe that the three have any idea what it is they are asking.

We have, at best, sent mixed signals (Keep Out/Help Wanted) to immigrants, largely South American, who have entered this country outside of proper channels.

Sheriff Jenkins says, “If you are here illegally, and you commit a crime, you are not welcome in Frederick County.” Never mind that the vast majority of those “crimes” are driving offences. Jenkins also opposes giving drivers’ licenses to undocumented residents.

Commissioner Jenkins wants to declare English as the official language of Frederick County. Back at the turn of the 20th century, it is said that you heard as much German spoken on the streets of Frederick as you did English. No uproar back then.

Commissioner Lenny Thompson wants the school board to survey the number of illegal immigrants who are students and has proposed withholding school funding if the BoE fails to agree. A little snag in this attorney’s plan is that Federal law prohibits school systems from inquiring after a students' immigration status.

Insisting on “English Only” and while denying them school? Arresting them for driving offences while denying them driving privileges? Complaining they don’t contribute while intimidating them deeper into an underground economy? If it weren’t so mind-bogglingly ill-conceived it would seem fiendishly sinister.

I am reminded of Thomas Moore’s Utopia: “In this point, I pray you, what other thing do you, than make thieves and then punish them?”

I really don’t think Jenkins, Jenkins, and Thompson fully appreciate what they are asking—demanding—of others. I don’t know how well traveled they are. I don’t know if any of them has ever tried to speak another language or attempted to live in another country (High school French and seeing a city through the window of an English-guided tour bus don’t count).

I recently lived in Argentina for six months to get some idea of what it’s like to find my way in another country, in another language. I took 18 months of Spanish in preparation. I moved into an apartment in the Recoleta Barrio of Buenos Aires. I had money and a safe apartment. All I had to do was go to school at the University of Buenos Aires and take Spanish classes.

It was the most humbling experience of my life.

Everyday was stressful. Every situation was awkward. Every thing was a challenge.

If I had to raise a family, get my kids into school, find a job—it would have been oppressively difficult. I was exhausted at the end of the day just from Spanish class.

Once the first three months of excitement and novelty wore off, the last three months were often humiliatingly difficult. I wasn’t smart, I wasn’t funny, I wasn’t important. I wanted to go home to the familiar, the friendly, my culture, my language. I now have some small idea of what immigrants—regardless of legal status—experience.

We can continue to argue about whose fault it is that Frederick has about 3000 undocumented residents. We can continue to say “What part of “illegal” don’t they understand.” But that’s not a plan—that’s just finger pointing and an empty slogan.

“They” are here. If we can try to exceed our legal authority to persecute them, we can also exceed in the other direction—and help them.

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