There was a meltdown of sorts among some last week as a legislative proposal was unveiled in the White House by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., joined by President Donald Trump, about legal immigration reforms or the process to obtain a green card to become a permanent citizen.
The RAISE Act (Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act) was introduced in the U.S. Senate in February and is embraced by President Trump. The legislation is designed to prioritize high-skilled immigrants in the effort to address the influx of about 1 million new immigrants each year on the pathway to citizenship, with only one in 15 of those possessing education or work training. The essentials of the legislation would create a merit-based competitive system prioritizing green card applicants with work skills and education, those individuals and family members who are able to live without taxpayer-funded welfare support and speak English.
Metaphorically, the RAISE Act will work to build a wall around American workers who compete against cheap and even illegal, less-educated labor and around the U.S. welfare system, too frequently the income for immigrants and the family members who join them.
The types of responses to the proposal that caught my eye were two-fold.
First, the language used by some to describe this proposal to put American workers and taxpayers first with a legal immigration system based on merit, just as Canada and Australia currently use, was predictable. The Southern Poverty Law Center trumpeted that this "reflects the white nationalist agenda." U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi issued a statement about Trump's "hateful, senseless anti-immigrant agenda" and "the tired cruelty of this bill" that "continues to choose discrimination" in the policy of immigration." One of the best quotes comes from New York Congressman and Democrat Adriano Espaillat, who said the legislation "targets immigrants not only by their race but based on their ability to pay."
Then, there were the breathless news accounts and talking heads in the Brady-Bunch-like boxes that just could not get past the references to assimilation to America and the clear value of speaking English.
What is wrong with assimilation? We do it every day. You assimilate into your work environment by demonstrating conduct reflecting standards set by your employer. You assimilate in automobile traffic, unless you're the aggressive jerk darting in and out of traffic and jeopardizing the safety of others. You assimilate in social environments to better engage in friendly and professional relationships.
But, holy cow, ask someone moving to a new nation (whose laws and liberties are truly the best in the world) to assimilate and you're beaten down as a racist as witnessed by CNN's Jim Acosta's reaction in the White House press briefing.
And what's the problem with identifying English as the language of America that facilitates optimal communication in every aspect of life: education, commerce, recreation, entertainment, etc.?
Our daughter taught on the faculty at Henan University in China as her first job out of college. Daily, she was tasked with teaching hundreds of freshmen and sophomores how to read and speak English. Even in her off-campus encounters, she and her other American colleagues were approached to teach English to young children at the request of Chinese parents. On more than one occasion, English was identified as the "language of freedom" in her interactions with her own students and perfect strangers.
America is great because her people reflect its values and heritage. That's a unifying principle for policy.
Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, owns Rivers Edge Alliance.