On August 2, President Trump introduced a policy to slash legal immigration in half in the next decade. The plan will cut back American citizens bringing family members into the country, while emphasizing skills to build our economic competiveness in the world market. The bill, sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, would set up a merit-based system to decide who is admitted to the United States and granted legal residency green cards. It favors applicants based on skills, education and language ability rather than family already here. There is a requirement that applicants must speak English.
As soon as the new policy was announced, there was criticism on cable TV shows that built during the day. When the press briefing took place at 2:00 p.m. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave the podium to White House senior adviser Stephen Miller who dealt with multiple concerned questions about the new immigration policy. He and CNN reporter James Acosta engaged in a prolonged heated discussion focused on the requirement that immigrants must “speak English” when they apply for entry. Acosta cited Emma Lazarus who wrote the poem, “The New Colossus”, inscribed on the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty. He quoted famous words that have offered promise to millions of immigrants since 1903. He questioned the English requirement. Miller interrupted him and tried to stop Acosta from continuing. Throughout the rest of the day and evening, their interchange was carried on CNN and MSNBC. Panels discussed the new merit-based policy for legal immigration and the requirement of speaking English.
The following morning, The New York Times lead story was “President Backs A Plan To Curtail Legal Immigration” . CNN at six a.m. headlined “Firestorm erupts on English as a requirement for Legal Immigrants. “ Senators from California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and New York with large agricultural areas and constant need for farm workers year round also raised objections to the entire proposed bill. Family ties bring additional farm workers to the United States to plant and harvest the crops necessary to our economy.
The requirement of “speaking English” brought a part of my family history back to my mind. My mother, Miriam Marcus Sloan was born in New York City in 1900. She lived with her widowed mother and two sisters in the lower East Side of New York City. She graduated from Hunter College which was free at that time, and enrolled in Columbia University to earn a Master’s Degree. To pay tuition, she taught English to adult immigrants at a school on the lower East Side. She told us stories of how intent they were to master the language. “The desks were small, especially for the large men, building the roads and streets during the day. The women worked in the mills, or clothing “sweat shops”. She stressed that “They would come after long hours of hard work to learn English. They were all determined to learn the language and they did. “
At the Jewish Museum in Philadelpha, there is a room with several actual desks that were used to teach immigrants in that city. Small, wooden desks with tops that lifted. When that happens, a recording gives the name of a woman who sat at the desk. What country she had come from and where she was living and working now. It is an amazing experience to sit at one of the desks and imagine being there a hundred years ago. After working all day, the man or woman now had to listen and follow the teacher’s words in English …. to master the lesson. My mother spoke of the admiration she felt for the students. “Seeing a big man with knarled hands… or a young girl from the factories…. sitting at one of the student desks, trying very hard at the end of a long work day to concentrate was truly inspiring. They worked hard and did learn to speak English.”
Immigrants also learned from their children who attended the public schools daily and came home speaking English to their parents. Generations of immigrants became naturalized citizens after they fulfilled the necessary steps. . Finally, we can note that most Americans speak only one language –English while people all over the world are bi-lingual or multi-lingual.
The president changed the subject from the F.B.I. investigation into possible Russian collusion with his presidential campaign with his introduction of the plan to cut legal immigration. Senator Lindsay Graham , Republican of South Carolina, said that agriculture and tourism are his state’s top two industries. He said, “If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy which relies on this immigrant work force.” Trump found out that the Senate would not support him on his Trumpcare Health bill. He may find out that they will do the same with his Legal Immigration Bill.
……………………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson