Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Path to Repatriation

I have ambivalent feelings about the desirability of strict limitations on immigration to America.  I have no ambivalence about people who violate laws that are already passed:  it is wrong, and it ought to be dealt with.  Granting illegal aliens an amnesty just because they have come here in such numbers that we can't deal with them seems like a poor excuse for public policy.  If amnesty is inevitable (I'm not sure that it is, but if), then we should make it difficult.  The illegals should have to reside in an ambiguous probationary state for a long time, say 10 years, paying taxes the whole time.  Any criminal conviction would void the amnesty and require immediate repatriation.

Even this, however, doesn't seem very onerous compared to what legal immigrants have to go through.  I heard an excellent suggestion (hat tip: Joe Thomas at The Afternoon Constitutional) that illegal aliens might be granted a path to citizenship only on the condition that they would admit that they crossed the border wrongly and accept a felony conviction with no time served.  The felony would not affect them in any way except that they would have to bear it on their record and suffer whatever penalties are provided by law against ex-felons in the state where they reside.  While this is an elegant solution, I don't think it is realistic, as many people are unwilling to concede that illegal immigrants have done anything wrong.  There may also be something awkward about adding 10 million felons to our citizenship rolls, although I'm not sure what practical consequences it would have.

Current proposals center around trading stricter border enforcement for amnesty.  Many Republicans have proposed setting an enforcement goal that we would have to reach prior to allowing the amnesty to take effect.  The problem with this idea is that I can't see what kind of targets we could set.  By its nature, we can't document everyone who crosses the border illegally.  Maybe there are some other very good ways of measuring illegal immigration, but I doubt it; and, even if there are, they would be subject to interpretation and manipulation by those who wanted to reach the target but weren't interested in actually achieving tighter enforcement.  The only kinds of goals, therefore, would be entirely based on what we do -- e.g., completing a border fence -- without any good way of measuring whether it is working.

There are, however, some concrete steps that we could take that might be worth exchanging for an amnesty.  Here are three ideas:

(1) English as the official language:  I love foreign languages, I have no problem with people learning them and speaking them.  I think that having a government that tries to cater to multiple languages is inefficient, and permitting it encourages divisiveness.  We need a law (or, better, a Constitutional amendment) stating that all official transactions of the Federal government are to be in English and no other language.  That would leave states free to do their business however they decided, and of course it would leave individuals free to do whatever they want.  It would also leave the door open for third parties to provide translations of U.S. documents into Spanish or whatever other language, and I suspect that would become common.  However, it would save the government from having to publish everything in multiple languages, and it would pre-empt any future legal difficulties with laws or statutes that might exist in two languages, which is an open invitation to ambiguity and legal loopholes.

(2) The end of birthright citizenship:  I have never understood the logic of granting automatic citizenship to anyone born here; while it may have made sense at a time when illegal immigration was rare, at the moment it seems chiefly an enormous temptation and incentive for foreigners who wish a better life for their children to come over here by any means possible prior to giving birth.  By ending this provision, which is anachronistic at best and illogical at worst, we would not end illegal immigration, but we would at least reduce the incentive and resolve the anomalous legal situation of parents who may break the law in order to make their children legal citizens.

(3) Clarification of the status of illegal immigrants:  The federal government has primary responsibility for enforcing immigration policy.  Although the best will in the world would not be able to prevent all illegal immigration, the government ought at least try to enforce it, and it should not have a policy of treating illegal aliens the same as legal citizens.  The federal government should make it clear that it will provide no government services to illegal aliens, and it should have a policy of how to deal with illegals once they are discovered.  If immediate repatriation is not possible, it should at least establish a "path to repatriation" with the end goal of returning them to their home country.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

State mottoes

Since I've been writing about languages in U.S. geographical names, I wanted to say a word about state mottoes.  The vast majority of these are in English or Latin -- 20 Latin, 24 English.  I looked for geographical patterns in the language used, but found none.  Of the original 13 colonies (which one might expect to have used more Latin), six are in Latin and six in English.  (More on the exception in a moment.)  From a few mottoes that I knew, I thought Southern states might prefer Latin, but I counted six Latin and six English there, as well.  The one area that my hunch seemed a little more on target was that Midwestern states preferred English mottoes two to one.

Six of the eight mottoes that predate 1800 are in Latin, but the oldest of all is the single English word "Hope," adopted by Rhode Island in 1644.  It is interesting that two states with English mottoes have adopted new, Latin mottoes since the turn of the millennium, Kentucky and North Dakota.  It would be interesting to know why they decided to make a change.

Six states have mottoes in languages other than English and Latin.  Minnesota's motto is not even really a phrase, but simply "L'etoile du nord," "The North Star."  Montana's motto is "Oro y plata," meaning "gold and silver."  I suppose it makes sense that a state with a Spanish name would have a Spanish motto, but it seems odd since Spain had so little to do with the settlement of this land near Canada.  California's motto, "Eureka," also pays tribute to the gold rush.  It is technically Greek, but eureka has also been adopted directly into English.

Two states have mottoes from indigenous languages.  Hawaii's is "Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono," meaning "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."  Washington doesn't even have an official motto -- the only state without one -- but it's unofficial motto, "Alki," is a Chinook word meaning "by and by."

Finally, Maryland's state motto is in Italian:  "Fatti maschii, parole femine," meaning "manly deeds, feminine words."  It was the family motto of Lord Baltimore, who founded the colony, so it has a strong historical basis.  It is a wonder that feminists haven't complained about the sexism inherent in this motto, especially since Maryland is one of the most liberal states in the country.  Probably the motto owes its survival to the utter insignificance of state mottoes in general, although I would be surprised if someone didn't complain about it eventually.

Monday, January 7, 2013

More names in American geography

I have mentioned the surprising influence of French on American names.  Spanish has had even more influence, but this is less surprising.  You could probably name a dozen cities with Spanish name for saints, as well as a few with common Spanish words -- Amarillo (yellow), El Paso (the pass), Las Vegas (the meadows).  Five states bear names that are plain Spanish words -- Florida (flowery), Colorado (coloured red), Montana (mountainous), California (hot), and Nevada (snow-covered) -- and others have Spanish-influenced names.  The city of Toldeo, Ohio, however, appears to have little to do with any direct Spanish influence.

France and Spain were present in North America during the early stages of settlement, which is why so much of the land's names are influenced by them rather than by German, which was the native language of more Americans than any other country (at least according to Wikipedia).  Apart from a few small communities, such as Germantown (Pennsylvania) and Germanna (Virginia), very few towns bear names of German origin, certainly nothing to match the likes of New Orleans, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Detroit in French.  The most important town with a German name, Bismarck, was so called by a railway company in the hope of attracting German investment (although North Dakota does have a high population of German settlers).

The Dutch, while constituting a much smaller portion of American immigrants than Germans, have had a major influence on American culture; but they, too, have left little influence on our landscape.  Their biggest impact came in the area they settled first, New York City, where one can find names like Harlem (originally Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen), Staten Island (Staaten Eylandt), and Long Island.  Their influence extends a little to the surrounding areas, with names like the Catskills, the Schuylkill River, and Renssalaer.  Outside of New York, there are few areas of obvious Dutch influence.  One in western Michigan, where one finds the town of Holland (which still has a Dutch festival) and a number of smaller communities with Dutch names.

Naturally, English names predominant in the original thirteen colonies, mixed with many names of Indian origin.  The original settlers were also fond of classical references, which is why you can visit Rome, Athens, and Corinth without leaving America (or indeed the South); Memphis and Cairo (pronounced KAY-ro) lie on the Mississippi; and Cincinnati, though named in honour of George Washington, is actually the name of an ancient Roman hero.