There’s something to be said for those wanting an ‘English-only’ plank in the ongoing immigration debate.

For the past few weeks I’ve been contemplating again tackling the ticklish subject of immigration. I was prompted to do so after reading a couple of recent columns in the Reno Gazette Journal. Ruben Navarrette’s column usually offers good food for thought, and the one I read is no different. It ran right next to an editorial about English-only rules. In some ways they offset each other - at least in my mind.

When I think about this issue, I’ll admit that I get somewhat confused and conflicted. I’ve heard it said that we are a nation of laws and those that break the law must be held accountable. Then, I think of the person in a village in the middle of a desolate country who wants only to have a better life and provide for a family but has no way of doing so, other than crossing a border without the legal right to do so. I recognize the contributions of the Hispanic workforce - not just here on my property, but throughout the country. Then, I read about the number of illegal immigrants who have not only broken the law by coming into the United States, but continue to break laws while here. I’ve seen documents that support the position that our infrastructure is suffering because of abuse by those here illegally. It’s quite the conundrum.

One thing that’s certain is that over the next 10 years employers in this country are going to be in desperate need of workers. The “Boomers” are going to be retiring and with the shrinking birth rate, there just aren’t enough help to take their places.

Having said that, I still have a problem with individuals demanding certain things without acknowledging their responsibilities. According to Navarrette’s column, in 2006, the Hispanic community was asking for primarily for citizenship, arguing that they have been productive members of the community since coming here illegally. Now, some Hispanic groups are demanding an end to workplace raids and a commitment from the next President that support of comprehensive immigration reform will be a part of the first 100 days of the new administration. There isn’t a whisper of acknowledgment of the initial wrongdoing of entering the country illegally, or of responsibility to right that wrong. Navarrette quotes Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization, that a new round of demands include “access to health care for all and good jobs” and an end to the Iraq war.

Suffice to say Navarrette thinks it is a mistake for these activists to reach beyond the 2006 goal of winning citizenship for illegal immigrants, at least at this time.

Meanwhile, the newspaper article that ran along with the Navarrette column tackled the contentious issue of whether voting ballots should be printed in a variety of languages or solely in English. The editorial said that the target of the English-only ballot is the Hispanic community. It goes on to state that the rule would also adversely affect individuals who speak Chinese, Tagalog, or an African or Middle Eastern language.

Reading between the lines on both these opinion pieces, I think the problem is the perception by some that Hispanics, whether here legally or illegally, are reluctant to fully become “Americans,” and learn to read, write and speak in the predominate language of the county, which is English.

From the human resources perspective, I must admit there are difficulties involved with hiring non-English speaking employees. I’ve had applicants come in who are unable to speak any English. There is quite often another person with them who translates for them. This language barrier can be difficult, especially when it comes to safety and service issues. But English-only rules can get an employer into hot water, depending on how they are enforced. There are no easy answers.

Don’t look toward either the Democratic or Republican parties for a solution to the illegal immigration question. Both sides have vastly different views on the issue. Both have good and bad ideas. A compromise needs to be struck, but extremes never want to negotiate. It also seems neither candidate for President wants to tackle illegal immigration right now - Homeland Security has placed a bigger burden on human resources to assure that illegal persons are not employed.

The problem is that we need the employees. I think the compromise must allow for accountability for those who came here illegally, perhaps in the form of affordable fines, delayed citizenship and forfeited social security benefits. And then, for those who want to come here in the future, a mechanism must be in place whereby they can do so without waiting years. Mandatory schooling and an ongoing reporting process to assure that immigrants are remaining a productive part of our society might also help. 

On the other hand, if immigrants truly want to come to this country and become part of the success story that we are, then perhaps they should adopt American mores and culture. Learning English would be a good start.