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Posts published in “Day: December 18, 2007”

Ah, thinking about immigration

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

We're among those apt to be irritated by people who deliver an extensive case for some proposition or other and end it with the tag line, "don't you think?" Gee . . . thanks for inserting a whole litany of your thoughts and ideas into my mouth.

Idaho Representative Bill Sali has done something like that with his latest letter to constituents - this was an official and franked mailing - on immigration-related policy. (It is headlined: "An urgent message from U.S. Congressman Bill Sali: We must secure the borders - without amnesty - and make English the spoken language of the United States of America.") There's a survey (a two-choice response possible) at the end, but that follows three pages of single-spaced outline of Sali's position.

Sali, like many Republican political figures, has a difficult time right now with immigration and people who are in this country illegally: The Republican base is split on the subject. His letter tries to come off as definitive, but pause for thought and questions arise almost by the paragraph. Much of it is the usual mix of strengthening the borders, increasing enforcement while "ensuring that the U.S. has access to the temporary workers that its industries need" (while not turning employers into bureaucratic proxies and paper-shufflers) and streamlining the process of immigration. These pieces are most part of the broad conventional wisdom; what no one seems to have figured out yet is how to make them work together rather than in opposition. After reading the letter, it seems no one has yet.

The most distinctive element of this seems to be H.R. 997 (the "English Language Unity Act of 2007"), which would "to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress' powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution." It was introduced by Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, and isn't new; earlier versions (carrying the same bill number) were introduced, and died, in each of the last three terms of Congress, and in terms before that. Currently, it is lodged in the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

What goals does Sali set for it? "As part of a broader package to secure our nation's borders - without granting amnesty - I'm working on a proposal that would help make English the spoken [emphasis in original] language of the United States."

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“We knew what he meant”

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

Among the many words spoken over a career in politics, departing Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi probably would include some of those he said back in late 2002 in praise of Senator Strom Thurmond, that the nation might have been better off if Dixiecrat (and ardent segregationist) Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Among the many words Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has uttered, he may come to regret a few he said this morning on the floor of the Senate, on occasion of Lott's leave-taking:

"I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old. We knew what he meant. But the wolfpack of the press circled around him, sensed blood in the water, and the exigencies of politics caused a great injustice..."

(His comments are available on UTube.)

Note that "we knew what he meant." And contrast it with Smith's public comments on the matter, to the Oregonian, in late 2002: "However they were intended [emphasis added], Senator Lott's words were offensive and I was deeply dismayed to hear of them. His statement goes against everything I and the people of Oregon believe in."

"We knew what he meant . . ." But what, then, did Smith mean when he spoke to the Oregonian five years ago? Did he mean it at all? (Smith became a key manager in Lott's eventual return to Senate leadership.)

We're not much interested in "gotcha" quotes or incidents. This wasn't just a misstatement or a misstep; this opens the door to something larger. Gordon Smith may have a time trying to circle this square.