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September 17, 2007

Edwards' Speech

I'm having trouble getting it to work, but you can watch Edwards' speech is being carried live here. He's taking strong aim at Clinton, referring to her as the "architect of the 1993 reforms." And his plan to end coverage for Congress if they don't pass health care just got a huge, 20- or 30-second ovation. "It's time for our government, for our Congress, to feel the pressure...to understand that health care isn't a political, but a moral, issue."

Update: Now he's talking about immigration reform, actually, and taking a bit of a hard line. "If you want citizenship, and you came here illegally, you need to pay a fine, It's gotta be a fine you can pay, but we can't pretend it didn't happen. I also believe, and this'll be a bit more controversial, tat if you want citizenship, you need to learn English."

September 17, 2007 | Permalink


I really love the card-check framing:

"If you can join the Republican party by signing your name to a card, then you should be able to join a union the same way. That's Democracy in America!"

Is there really anything controversial about Edwards' line on immigration? Don't we require English as part of the citizenship test today?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 17, 2007 11:01:47 AM

Don't we require English as part of the citizenship test today?

Yes. But, as a politician, Edwards is attempting to show that he can take a "hard line" by advocating for a policy that we're already enacting (in part because much of the electorate doesn't actually realize this).

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 17, 2007 11:10:03 AM

Again politics. As to law, no there is no controversy. As to political groups- yes. Some of the more liberal groups say that, at least when I used to follow this issue, English shouldn't be a require. That we need to respect other people's traditions. Not sure what I think of the fine. I suppose if its a condition to citizenship then its ok.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 11:20:21 AM

I should note that while we've always required English to become a citizen, it used to be that America didn't much care whether you could speak English or not, otherwise. My grandfather brought his family to the USA, got work in a factory, got his green card, and then retired to his home country where he lived well off of his savings and social security checks for the rest of his life. And he barely learned a word of English. He didn't give anyone any trouble and they never gave him any trouble.

But if politicians want to innoculate themselves against accusations of being pro-illegal-immigration by taking a "brave stand" in favor of "making knowledge of English a condition of citizenship," more power to them.

Wow, I'm getting cynical in my old age.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 17, 2007 11:26:49 AM

I have lived in communities where people are being told they aren't required to learn English. it does a disservice to them to say that English shouldn't be required because it lessens their opportunity and quite frankly pisses everyone else off for no good reason other than faux progressivism. If you think you are being helpful in this frame, you are wrong. And its not like your grandfather unless he was a shade of brown. it's already hard enough as a person of color- creating additional layers to being able to suceed in this society like saying English shouldn't be required is beyond harmful- its harmful for no good reason.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 11:49:06 AM

akaison, I think that knowledge of English is enough of an economic incentive to motivate anyone to do so. We're coming up to the intersection of encouraging and fostering the use of english, whipping up prejudice against those who don't know english, and having politicians take advantage of the latter sentiment for electoral gain.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 17, 2007 11:59:21 AM

...[H]is plan to end coverage for Congress if they don't pass health care just got a huge, 20- or 30-second ovation.

Wow, I'd almost vote for him based on this alone.

(I'm waiting for Elizabeth Edwards to apologize to MoveOn members for stabbing us in the back, and want to know the extent of JE's prior knowledge and endorsement of that.)

Still, OMFG the 'nads ...

Posted by: Ellie | Sep 17, 2007 12:07:16 PM

what you think is irrelevant. the fact is there are peo who are now approaching second generation who haven't learned english because each time this is offer as a requirement even by progressives the common reframe is discrimination. what's discriminatory is to set people up for failure. and not requiring english will certainly do that.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 12:19:55 PM

I'm sure there are people approaching the second generation who don't learn English; but most immigrants, especially those in the 2nd generation, do learn English. That's what the data shows, anyway.

Have a look at James Crawford; he's been working on this question for awhile.


And here:


Posted by: delagar | Sep 17, 2007 1:10:41 PM

what's discriminatory is to set people up for failure. and not requiring english will certainly do that.

You'll find plenty of commercials on Spanish-language TV for English courses. The available ESL facilities for first-gen immigrants are limited, though.

The problem with the 'English-language' debate is that it tends to lead down stupid paths. The provision of multilingual ballots shouldn't be controversial, except that voter suppression towards minorities has long been a GOP tactic. (Why? Because most state ballots include propositions that are legalistic enough to cause native English-speakers trouble.)

But we're heading into that stage of the election cycle where candidates can't talk about the big truth of immigration reform -- the bureaucracy needs funds and support -- because it's the one bit of the federal government that natural-born citizens (i.e. most voters) never encounter, except at a second remove.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 17, 2007 1:46:06 PM


I have no problems with the nuiances you mention. i do have a problem with the labeling of a requirement to learn English as a sign of discrimination as if there are no practical reasons why the immigrant in a functioning society should not learn english. and not simply because he or she wants but because if they have less opportunities coming into society, then they are more likely to be burden than someone who knows english to both themselves and others.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 2:59:00 PM

One thing you guys are overlooking in the English discussion is that learning English isn't just about assimilating here in the USA -- English is the default language of international business. Take three random people from Europe and put them into a room, odds are their common language will be English, not any one of their native tongues.

Posted by: Fiat Lux | Sep 17, 2007 3:07:41 PM

akaison, truthfully, I don't think that we should be using immigration to fill jobs of the sort of low-skill, low-education positions that people can fill without a command of english in the first place.

Given that this is the perspective I'm coming from, I tend to think that if a functioning adult comes into this country, it is his or her responsibility to learn English or deal with the economic consequences. That is an acceptable price to pay in exchange for having a society where people mind their own business.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 17, 2007 3:08:13 PM

well since I don't subscribe to the how can we exploit-labor-through-language-barriers school of thought: first, it hadn't occured to me that any human would advocate this regarding other humans, and, second, I guess we will have to agree to disagee.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 3:49:56 PM

akaison, I think you missed my point-- we shouldn't be encouraging/allowing immigration in order to fill jobs in which people could "get away" with never learning english in the first place. If you don't have a job in-hand that's a high skill, high demand position (which, presumably, requires english), then the US shouldn't be inviting you in. And if somehow you do manage to make it into the country (like maybe because your spouse is the person who has the good job), well, you should be adult enough to realize that learning English is going to be the best way to advance economically.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 17, 2007 4:56:44 PM

yes, i did misunderstand you. but as to your point i still have a problem. its nice thought about what humans should do, but not the reality. i deal with reality as it is and hope to make it better rather than some theorectical construct about it. as long as their are opportunities there will be peo seeking them. the question is to we have a systemic way to address the issue or stick ou r head in the sand? discussing whats adult or not seems well- childish- when addressing this reality.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 5:33:08 PM

I'm not sure why this thread continued past the first three comments. Knowing English is already a requirement for citizenship, unless you qualify for a disability waiver or in certain cases if you're 50 or older and have lived here at least 20 years. I don't know of any immigrant advocacy group that is calling for the English test to be revoked or watered down. That seems like it would be strategically foolish given the current climate on immigration. If permanent residents not qualifying for the exceptions listed above are being told they don't have to learn English (which I doubt), they will face the hard truth when their applications are denied after they fail the English and civics exams. This is why community organizations offer English and citizenship classes.

Also, there is already a de facto fine of $1365 for a family-based green card application, for instance, followed by $675 to apply for citizenship. So we're already talking about a $2000+ minimum "application fee" for citizenship for a population for which every penny counts. Now Edwards wants to further penalize the people who can least afford it--those who entered illegally or overstayed their visas.

All Edwards' comments have shown to me on this issue is that he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Posted by: yave begnet | Sep 17, 2007 11:20:06 PM

uhm a) becauase the issue isn't settled dispite what you claim and b) because the green card is for those who legally came here versus illegally (i can see how its settled if you don't see any distinction between the former and latter).

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 11:21:52 PM

Assuming you were addressing my comment, aikison, which I'm not certain you were, I'm claiming that the issue of whether to require English proficiency is basically settled because it is current law and I don't know of any pro-immigrant groups calling for reversal of this law. Thus the onus is on you to back up with evidence your assertion that groups are calling for this.

Also, under no plan of which I'm aware would someone who entered illegally get to skip the green card process by virtue of some other path to citizenship. So the green card fees would already apply across the board to all comers, including those who entered illegally.

Also, what you said isn't entirely true. People who entered illegally can get a green card if (1) they had a family or employment-based petition filed for them before April 30, 2001, and they pay an additional $1000 penalty (2) they apply for and receive asylum, or (3) they have been here continuously since 1972, for starters.

In short, I'll lump you in with my assessment of Edwards.

Posted by: yave begnet | Sep 17, 2007 11:36:09 PM

if you say so yave. just to be clear- you are saying there are no pro immigration groups with a problem with english language requirements? you are also arguing that those who come here legally should be treated the same as those who do not? because those are the two broad points despite your parsing that you are making.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 18, 2007 12:48:26 AM

you are also arguing that those who come here legally should be treated the same as those who do not? because those are the two broad points despite your parsing that you are making.

Er, no: yave's point is that under the current system, whereby USCIS is essentially forced to recoup a large proportion of its costs from application fees, it now costs over $1000 for a legal immigrant who has already coughed up substantial visa fees to remain. And no, you can't pay by credit card.

Were you aware of those price increases? Do you give a flying fuck? Because no candidate seems to care: after all, non-citizens can't vote, and yet both parties will still put up stalls at naturalization ceremonies. No candidate will pledge to invest in an immigration bureaucracy that would shame Americans if they came into direct contact with it, because most Amercans don't come into contact with it, and a substantial number would like to build 40-foot fences and deport everyone who looks 'foreign'.

That's yave's point: the legal path to permanent residence and then citizenship is costly, burdensome and implemented shambolically, and the distinction that Edwards and you are making is perceived quite simply: soak the foreigners who entered illegally a bit more, and you don't have to worry about how those who entered legally get a shakedown.

Plus, the elsion from 'immigrant' to 'illegal immigrant' to 'illegal alien' to (the LouDobbsian latest) 'criminal illegal alien' has its psychological impact. Non-citizens in the US are now assumed by a large section of the populace to be suspect, particularly if they are brown and speak a funny language, for instance, this Welsh-born musicologist.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 18, 2007 1:35:59 AM

just to be clear- you are saying there are no pro immigration groups with a problem with english language requirements?

I've said it twice already, but it doesn't seem to be sinking in. I don't know of any--if you do, please share.

you are also arguing that those who come here legally should be treated the same as those who do not?

I'm not saying that. I am saying that there's already a large financial burden on immigrants trying to become permanent residents regardless of their prior status. We should not mindlessly ramp up those fees just to placate the Know-Nothings and Lou Dobbs. Also, our policies governing who gets in legally in the first place discriminate on the basis of race and class. Immigration officers, in my experience, routinely discriminate on the basis of race in implementing laws that they are often marginally informed about. Let's talk about that, not about whether "illegal means illegal" or the proportionally miniscule number of crimes committed by out of status immigrants.

Posted by: yave begnet | Sep 18, 2007 7:56:32 AM

a) your first point is false. anyone who wants to find out why can google it.

b) as i suspected this is about your idealogical beliefs, not settled positions. and that comes o ut in your second post. thanks for not hiding behind claims of what's "settled law" this time.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 18, 2007 11:18:04 AM

akaison, apparently you exist on a higher plane free from ideological contamination … meanwhile, here on earth, of course I have ideological leanings, which I’ve made no attempt to hide.

Point (a), as you’ve labeled it, is about a settled debate. I googled “immigration english language requirement United States” and found an article from 1996 from the Center from Immigration Studies, a restrictionist think tank, arguing that requiring immigrants to learn English is not racist, and one from this year from the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration group, explaining that the government needs to take a more active role in helping immigrants learn English.

So I still don’t know what you’re talking about and you’ve not made any efforts to back up your statements.

Point (b) is not settled yet, I never claimed it was settled, that’s why we’re discussing it now. Please pay attention.

I can see you’re not investing much time or thought into what you’re saying—you don't seem interested in substantive discussion.

Posted by: yave begnet | Sep 18, 2007 2:08:58 PM

I'm going to back up yave here, and suggest that while akaison may well be drawing upon compelling anecdotal evidence of resistance to English-language learning, it's still anecdotal.

In the meantime, 'soak the legal immigrants and then soak the illegal immigrants some more' is still the order of the day, as is a combination of indifference and ignorance towards the experience of non-citizens from those who are exempted from costs and qualifications through the accident of birth or parentage.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 18, 2007 2:43:55 PM

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