ThinkProgress and the English Language

Here’s ThinkProgress with another silly headline:

Rubio’s English-Only Requirement Could Prevent Over Four Million From Becoming New Americans.

The story:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced this week that he would submit a stringent “English-only” amendment to the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill that would require immigrants to be proficient in English and to pass a civics test before they can receive a green card. Rubio’s amendment could prevent 4.84 million undocumented immigrants who do not speak English well from ever getting on a pathway to citizenship.

The current immigration bill requires undocumented individuals to enroll in English classes, before they apply for a green card. Rubio’s amendment, however, would enforce such individuals to be proficient in English before they can ever apply.

This could create a huge obstacle for immigrants to overcome in order to get on the path to citizenship.

This is a little misleading, especially given that at no point does the author acknowledge that the law already requires one to pass both an English language test and a civics examination in order to gain citizenship. As the USCIS explains on its website:

During your naturalization interview, a USCIS Officer will ask you questions about your application and background. You will also take an English and civics test unless you qualify for an exemption or waiver. The English test has three components: reading, writing, and speaking. The civics test covers important U.S. history and government topics.

Again: You cannot become an American citizen unless you can demonstrate that you speak English well and can pass a civics test. Rubio’s proposal affects citizenship only indirectly, in that it requires that people who wish to be made permanent residents show proficiency in English (and one has to be a permanent resident before one can become a citizen). ThinkProgress’s implication, that Rubio is setting up English proficiency as an obstacle to citizenship, is false. He’s not. He’s simply moving forward the point at which proficiency is expected. There is, after all, no point in being on a “pathway to citizenship” if you can’t eventually become a citizen. I thought the Left was against creating a class of permanent second-class citizens?

The headline should really be:

Rubio’s English-Only Requirement Could Prevent Over Four Million From Becoming Permanent Residents, and One Has to Be a Permanent Resident Before One Can Become a Citizen

As the author himself writes:

If Rubio’s amendment is passed, it could delay the pathway to citizenship. Setting a mandatory English barrier would unnecessarily extend the time it takes for immigrants to receive a green card and thus, the time it takes for them to economically contribute more as legalized immigrants.

First, the claim that the move would “extend the time it takes for immigrants to receive a green card and thus, the time it takes for them to economically contribute more as legalized immigrants” is slippery in the extreme. One does not have to be a permanent resident or a citizen to work here; all one needs is a work visa of some sort. If Rubio’s amendment becomes law, then so will the rest of the bill. And if the rest of the bill becomes law, then illegal immigrants will be legalized and they will be able to work and “to economically contribute.” That many of these people will not be able to become permanent residents because they don’t speak English may be upsetting for them, but it will not stop them from contributing. To suggest that it will is dishonest.

Second, why is an English language requirement “unnecessary”? This is not the late nineteenth century. Now, for better or for worse, we live in a modern economy with a welfare state. Putting children and refugees to one side, I’ve never understood the bleeding heart view on this question. If you move to a country, you are expected to make certain sacrifices: You can’t continue to use the currency of your native land; you can’t expect to bring the laws of your hometown with you; you can’t bring your entire family and all of your friends with you. Why, if you wish to become a permanent resident, shouldn’t you be expected to speak the language ? 

Permanent residency, remember, is not another word for “temporary visa.” A green card is a permanent — i.e. lifelong – visa that doesn’t expire. Ever. It is effectively citizenship without the voting rights. If you intend to live here forever, why shouldn’t you have to demonstrate that you can speak the language that everybody else speaks before you are admitted? Why shouldn’t you have to pass a civics test? It’s the least that you can do.

The best argument against Rubio’s proposal is that one often has to move to a country in order to learn its language. Maybe for some people this is true. But the illegal immigrants who would be affected are, remember, already here, and, if this bill is passed, they will get to stay for as long as they like, whether they eventually get hold of a green card or not. Likewise, the holders of legal visas who wish to upgrade their temporary status to permanent residency are also already here. And those would-be permanent residents who are waiting for decades in their home country for the chance to benefit from America’s generous system of chain-migration? Well, they have more than enough time to prepare for such a pair of tests. I honestly struggle to see the problem with applying this to permanent residency. Visas? No. Green cards? Yes.

The author continues:

The discriminatory practice adversely affects first-generation immigrants, and becomes wholly unnecessary for second-generation immigrants who are generally English-proficient.

This is just nonsense. By definition, “second-generation immigrants” are American citizens by birth and in no need of the immigration process. It’s wholly irrelevant what the immigration and naturalization laws require of would-be immigrants — because they don’t apply to people who were born here. I can only presume that the author is irritated that immigrants who don’t speak English are unable to naturalize and are thus unable to vote, whereas their fluent, citizen-by-birth children are accorded the full joys of citizenship. Well, as far as this immigrant is concerned, this is a virtuous arrangement. What is the possible objection to the law’s witholding citizenship and voting privileges from newcomers who are unable to speak the language but its giving it to their children who are fluent? Actually, don’t answer that . . .

Last thing:

Rubio’s amendment could prevent 4.84 million undocumented immigrants who do not speak English well from ever getting on a pathway to citizenship.

Only if they don’t learn English, yes. How patronizing to suggest that 4.84 million people are permanently incapable of learning the primary language of the country in which they live.

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