Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

This recent story from The Washington Post reflects what I think is essential surrounding reasonable immigration policy.

Five years after African immigrants began flocking to this former mill town, city officials say they still are not qualified for many of the jobs the city has to offer. In response, Lewiston [Maine] is enforcing one of the country’s most aggressive policies aimed at speeding assimilation: Somalis here often must take English classes, or risk losing some welfare benefits.

“ESL,” said assistant city administrator Phil Nadeau, summing up the city’s English-as-a-second-language philosophy, “is everything.”

It’s virtually impossible to argue that English fluency is not essential to success in America. Sure, some may succeed despite a lack of fluency, but that will result from the nature of a closed community, but the opportunity for growth and new ideas becomes limited with a refusal to stretch beyond a non-English speaking group within the United States.

Accordingly, requiring English lessons for immigrants receiving welfare benefits is legitimate. I’m bypassing the “should immigrants get welfare” aspect because it’s not necessary for the point I want to make. Replace welfare with citizenship in the argument, if necessary. On whatever terms, English is our language. Individuals need basic English skills to function in society. Someone who can’t function isn’t likely to stay off welfare for any extended period. That’s not helpful to any community.

Further in, the article presents a voice of doubt on whether the requirement is useful, since some individuals attend only because it’s required, and as a result, don’t bother to learn. I don’t doubt that happens, but I also assume that such any legitimate program would include some mechanism to prove that the student makes progress throughout the course and can pass some level of proficiency at the end. Given how easily that fear could be applied to many American students wasting their time in high school, should we not require students to attend school until adulthood? Regardless, I think the critical view, that immigrants can’t or won’t learn, is absurd. Requiring an immigrant to know or learn English basic English puts the onus on the individual. If the person doesn’t want to help himself, the majority of the community that accepts responsibility for themselves shouldn’t be burdened. Providing support for the deserving poor shouldn’t be charity without expectations.

Smart immigration policy reflects a truth that should be apparent to anyone watching the cultural conflicts around the world in recent months. Multi-cultural societies don’t work. Not multi-racial, for that’s a benign concept for a culture. A refusal to accept multi-cultural means that assimilation is essential. Individuals can retain pieces of their past and useful cultural associations, but it’s essential to understand that America represents the principles and beliefs imparted by freedom and liberty. America includes cultural aspects from nations all around the world, but our ideas and culture are uniquely ours. Immigrants should expect to become Americans, not citizens of separate entities residing within the physical borders of the United States. English is a common bond, and as such, should be expected.

2 thoughts on “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”

  1. I certainly agree that speaking English is required for assimilation and will make the strife from marginalized immigrants a non-issue. But I have a better way to ensure that immigrants learn English – don’t give them welfare. By giving handouts to immigrants there is no incentive to learn the language of their new country.

  2. Welfare reform that excludes immigrants makes sense to me. However, I think the bigger issue surrounding immigration is our policy that makes legal immigration harder than it should be. The decision becomes do we exclude or include people in society.
    I hit the point about who should get welfare (immigrant or not) indirectly. “Deserving poor” is the best we’re ever going to get, so the practical side of me wants to argue for that. I’d love a libertarian society, but it’s never going to sell to those who find it cruel. “Deserving poor” is an acceptable compromise that doesn’t devalue the underlying principles, I think.
    Anyway, good comment. Thanks.

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