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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Press 2 for English’
Question of the Day
PRESS 2 FOR ENGLISH: FIX IMMIGRATION, SAVE AMERICA
By S. Rob Sobhani
Caspian Publishing, $24.95, 238 pages
This is a serious book by a thoughtful observer of one of the crisis issues facing America. The points he raises deserve a close reading and careful consideration. S. Rob Sobhani argues that U.S. immigration policy has become such a contradictory mishmash of reaction responses that it amounts to no policy.
He also argues that those other "new arrivals" in American society, our black fellow citizens, are the most heavily penalized by the surge since 2000 of an estimated 13 million immigrants -- 11 million of them illegal. He cites data that at least 40 percent of the high incidence of unemployment among blacks, most particularly among black teenagers, can be traced to immigrants who take jobs at lower wages.
The first step the author proposes to address the immigration morass is to make English the official language of the United States, a standard that already is imposed by 31 state governments. He makes a convincing case that programs that promote English as a second-language among immigrants and in the public schools act as a barrier to acquiring both higher education and better-paying jobs.
Mr. Sobhani proposes coupling the official adoption of English with an aggressive program of structured English immersion that would prepare the individual to move on into the general classroom and job market. He also would force reversal of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission policy targeting small businesses that insist their employees be proficient in English.
Mr. Sobhani's second prescription is to enforce the immigration laws already on the books. He notes that the Obama administration in 2009 ended the practice of cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens through unannounced raids on workplaces. Since then, immigration agents have been required to give advance notice to companies, giving the illegals time to vanish before the inspections.
By stepping up border-enforcement patrols along our common border with Mexico (the overwhelming source of most illegals) and by requiring the use of electronic verification of documents by employers, Mr. Sobhani argues, the potential gain in job opportunities for legitimate U.S. citizens would open up the estimated nearly 5 percent of current jobs that are held by aliens.
The author's third recommendation is more problematical -- a five-year moratorium on immigration. This would not be an outright ban on all immigration. Spouses of U.S. citizens, people of extraordinary ability and humanitarian cases would be allowed in. But the estimated 75,000 work visas currently issued every month would be held to a bare minimum as long as the broad unemployment number for the country was above 5 percent.
In addition, the broad current rules would be ended that allow the added immigration of extended relatives of individuals who do gain entrance into the country. Spouses and children would be allowed in but not siblings, parents or even adult children. Amnesty permits for illegals also could be ended.
Related to the moratorium is the fourth proposal: to end the current government permissiveness that allows the chain immigration of groups of even distant relatives of a single person under the rubric of family reunification. It is these extended family members who are most likely to need access to public welfare and health facilities of their host communities, while few of them have the skills -- or even the desire -- to work, let alone pay taxes to support those facilities.
Mr. Sobhani's fifth proposal is in many ways the most interesting. It addresses the root cause of the immigration dilemma, the underlying instability, lack of opportunity and corruption of many of our neighboring nations -- Mexico by far and away the most obvious -- that drives their citizens to undertake the risk and arduous trek to the United States in search of a better life.
He argues that whether it is Mexico or Pakistan or any of a half dozen other kleptocracies into which we pour foreign aid, our international policies have failed to force those governments to clean up their governance and eradicate the poverty that sends their citizens fleeing to our shores.
In Mexico's case, he points to U.S. actions in Colombia, where a combination of economic aid, military assistance and a dose of covert special operations forces have reversed the hegemony of the drug cartels that once ruled that troubled land.
This is a well reasoned book, but I have one reservation. Mr. Sobhani seems to support a notion that there once was a golden age when immigrants coming here were welcomed. That is not the way I remember my American history. Successive waves of immigrants from Europe in the 19th century provoked violent anti-Catholic riots. Virulent anti-Semitism was an undercurrent during the Red Scare of the early 1920s. Vietnamese refugees from the war who settled in the Gulf Coast just two decades ago met with open hostility. Indeed, at least part of the violence against the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s stemmed from the reality that blacks had been largely invisible to the white population and their emergence as a new group of "others" was as culturally unsettling as if they had just gotten off the boat at Ellis Island.
Nevertheless, "Press 2 for English" is necessary reading for these times. Until there is a general public will to do so, it is unlikely that Mr. Sobhani's recommendations will gain any traction, but his book certainly should get the discussion moving in the right direction, highlighting as it does a problem that seems to get worse, not better.
• James Srodes' latest book, "On Dupont Circle," will be published next month by Counterpoint.
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