America Doesn't Hate Immigrants
“Every person I listened to, he’s spoke, he spoke, she’s speaking it. It’s America…And my guess is that they’re not documented so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country. If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money – I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here.”
These are the words of attorney Aaron M. Schlossberg of Manhattan after hearing employees at a local restaurant speaking Spanish which was covered by local news at PIX 11. The rant was captured on video, and it went viral on Facebook. The unsavory comments incredibly exemplify the misunderstandings about foreign language speakers held by some Americans and shines the light on the common myths about foreign language speakers and immigrants. The attorney’s comments presuppose: (1) People speaking in a foreign language are immigrants, legal or illegal; (2) Illegal and legal immigrants are on welfare, and (3) Illegal and legal immigrants do not pay taxes. These are myths. Another myth is the idea that many Americans hate immigrants. It takes education to combat these myths.
Just because someone is speaking in a foreign language does not automatically make him a foreigner. For example, I don’t often speak Spanish, but when I do speak it, does the act of speaking in Spanish make me a foreigner? The answer is no, but there is still an ill-conceived perception that I am a foreigner. After telling inquiring minds that I am from Oklahoma, the next question is, “Where are you really from?” I am a third-generation American on my mother’s side of the family. It is quite possible my ancestors did not cross the Mexican border, but the American border crossed over my ancestors. According to the Center for Immigration Studies , one in five U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home, and forty-four percent of those residents are not immigrants. In other words, almost close to half of the foreign language speakers in the U.S. are often U.S. citizens, such as the recipients of the attorney’s misplaced rants.
The attorney’s comments also implied all immigrants receive welfare. According to a study, conducted by the Los Angeles County Internal Services Division (ISD) , illegal immigrants, except refugees, are barred from most federally funded assistance programs, such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, or IRCA, and the Immigration Act of 1990. Systematic Alien Verification Entitlement (SAVE) enforces both. My parents raised me in a small farming community in southwestern Oklahoma wherein I saw first-hand the number of naturally born U.S. citizens obtaining government-provided assistance over the number of so-called immigrants, if any.
The third myth indicates immigrants do not pay taxes. Legal and illegal immigrants pay taxes on income through the use of taxpayer IDs, whether obtained legally or illegally. They also live in our communities, shop in the same stores, and pay the same tax rates on goods, products, and services, especially property tax. The ISD study estimates that in Los Angeles County (California is one of the six states where immigrants concentrate), legal and illegal immigrants, together, “generate a surplus of approximately $25 billion to $30 billion” over social-services cost. In other words, immigrants often contribute more than they take.
Finally, on the flip side of the coin, there is a common belief that American’s hate immigrants. However, a report appended to Medium by Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity indicates that most Americans believe immigration is good for the country, that Americans do not want a wall on the border, and that Americans are more fearful that enforcement goes too far rather than the fear that enforcement does not do enough. There is a reason Wednesday’s Democratic Debate showcased three candidates speaking Spanish: the voice of immigrants is accepted and valued by many Americans. The reason we do not always see this is because only the “loudest people and the biggest events [omitted] seem to dictate the narrative,” much like the video recording of the attorney’s hateful rant.
So how do we combat the myths? The answer would require another full-length essay. The overall arching tool to combat the myths is more education. The American Immigration Council states, “If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt; and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted.” The statement reminds Americans there is a history of immigration of which we should not be ignorant. To remove ignorance is to learn. To learn the historical facts is to be educated.