Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Late in the Day

with 5 comments

It is, in fact, much later in the day than I usually write anything, but it’s been insane from off, and I’m just glad I got Gregor done and in the box (metaphorically, these days) before my allergies exploded and I had to go lie down with ice on my eyes again.

But it’s later in the day, I’ve got a lot of Diet Coke with lime wedges, and…well, here I am.


The annoyance came a few days ago, actually, at a meeting I was required to attend for reasons that are beyond complicated.  And I won’t go into them.

Part of the meeting was a partial viewing of a PBS documentary called Sentenced Home, about two young men who were immigrants from Cambodia, who had been here since childhood, but who had, in their teen aged years, been members of street gangs and committed crimes for which they were convicted of felonies.

According to the film, changes in immigration law after 9/11 now makes these young men liable to being deported because a) they never bothered to get citizenship (they have green cards) and b) they are felons, although the law at the time they committed their crimes did not make them liable to being deported, and they’ve lived practically exemplary lives ever since.

Now, I’ve got some questions about this–I don’t understand, for instance, why this post-9/11 thing doesn’t qualify as an ex post facto law, which is unConstitutional–but that’s not really what I wanted to complain about.

I didn’t even want to complain about the accompanying “educational module packet” (I swear, English teachers love the word “module” because it sounds “scientific”), which started right out with a timeline declaring that 1492 was the date on which “the genocide of indigenious peoples” started with the arrival of Columbus.

Someday, honest to God, I’m going to take out commercial time on Cable television just to broadcast the actual definition of “genocide.”

But, like I said, that wasn’t it.  That was pretty much par for the course.

What got to me was the comments that went around after we’d seen the clip, which were–well, about as mind bogglingly stupid as anything I’ve ever complained about from students.

But you have to understand something.  By and large, the people who work in this place are not “intellectuals” as we usually use the term here.  Most of them don’t have PhDs, for instance, and most of them would be teaching just about anywhere else if they could manage it.

So I’m not sure  you could use what went on here as an example of what happens in a “normal” English department, because this is not in any way a normal English Department.

But here’s what I learned:

1) In spite of all the complaining they do about Fox News, most of these people are channeling Bill O’Reilly.  They think that the protections in the Constitution–due process, free speech, that sort of thing–only apply to citizens. 

2) They are all convinced that the US is “terrible” in its response to immigrants.  When I pointed out that most countries don’t allow immigrants to become citizens on any terms, they went, mhhhm, hummm, but–

Ah, but that’s when the shit really hit the fan, in the form of a woman, born Jamaican, I think, from the accent, and immigrated here from London, announced that every other country gives a safe haven so immigrants don’t have to fear being imported.

She knew this because she was an immigrant, and also because she had a cousin or a friend or something who was an immigration lawyer, and he’d told her that even if you got your citizenship, they could deport you any time they wanted to.

The whole thing was a truly remarkable performance, exacerbated by the fact that it was hot, they kept turning off the air conditioner so that people could hear the movie, I hadn’t had any sleep and I was ready to commit homicide on this woman by about a third of the way through the process.

One of the things that really got to me was the response to the clips of a woman from INS, who talked about immigration policy in terms of bestowing on people who asked for it a very valuable thing, residency in the US.

The objection to her seemed to be that she thought residency in the US was a very valuable thing.  That was proof positive of the arrogance and insularity of Americans.

So, I have to ask two questions:

1) Since the Cambodian men in the movie were fighting hard not to have to move someplace else–didn’t that mean they thought that residency here was a very valuable thing?

2) All those people who come here every year illegally, risking their lives and spending the last of their money to get across the border–aren’t their actions proof that they think residency here is a very valuable thing?

3) And if every other country in the world will give her a safe haven without having to fear every day that she’ll be deported, unlike here–why in the name of God is this insufferable woman here? 

I’m not talking about love it or leave it, now.  I don’t have a problem with criticism based on facts. 

But I think I was ready to completely explode by the end of the day.

How can I expect my students to know which war Pearl Harbor got us into if their teachers know about as much about anything as I do about changing a tire?


Whine over.

Written by janeh

July 30th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Late in the Day'

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  1. If my memory is correct, there were cases in the 1950s where “mafia” chiefs were deported to Italy even though they had been in the US since childhood.
    That would seem roughly equivalent to the film Jane is talking about. So I would question whether it is a new policy or new law.

    And Australia does try to deport illegal immigrants. We get several thousand a year who come in groups via boats fron Indonesia.


    30 Jul 10 at 7:09 pm

  2. It was the 1930s, actually, and they did not deport Americans born to citizenship, but only those who had been born citizens elsewhere and become naturalized.

    And that changed by the 1960s, and it’s still NOT back.

    They young men were not citizens–they had permanent resident alien status (green cards), but they hadn’t gone ahead and become citizens.

    If they HAD become citizens, the US with the law as it stands at this time would not be legally allowed to deport them.


    30 Jul 10 at 7:14 pm

  3. If that speaker thinks all other countries in the world offers safe haven to everyone instantly, she hasn’t read about Canada, and she hasn’t read about people trying to get around ‘safe haven’ laws which generally mean refugees have to stay in the first safe place they hit, which is often not the one the people in question are actually heading for. I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

    Canada, too, has deported landed immigrants who came here as infants or small children and later, as adults, commit crimes. I’ve never heard of the government going after people who were living ‘practically exemplary’ lives with the exception of a single criminal conviction. They had long criminal histories. And even deportation doesn’t work if you let them out on bail and they disappear, or you do get them out, and they sneak back in. At one time, the Jamaican government was quite annoyed, pointing out that these men (they were almost always men) had learned all their criminal ways in Canada and why should Jamaica suffer as a result? They had a point, but on the other hand, no one claimed that the Canadian government couldn’t deport a landed immigrant, or whatever they’re called now, after a criminal conviction. Citizens are different; citizens, born or naturalized, we’re stuck with unless they are naturalized and lied on their application form or something.

    And getting permanent legal status (eg refugee status) is far from easy or automatic in Canada. I don’t expect it’s easy or automatic anywhere.


    30 Jul 10 at 7:50 pm

  4. I’d be very careful about “the definition of genocide.” The one the UN trots out is so broad I probably violate it by ordering in English at the local McDonalds. (Discouraging the use of Spanish. That would be “cultural genocide.”)

    In the case of the Cambodians, I’d have to know the details. As far as I can see, changing the penalties after the crime has been committed would be ex post facto, and so unconstitutional. But if what we’ve done is change the standards for residency, and saying felons are no longer able to stay–I think that might pass constitutional muster. That wouldn’t make it necessarily a good idea, of course. Not all bad ideas are unconstitutional. Either way, the kids clearly should have put in for citizenship before becoming felons.

    As for the response of the English Department, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have expected any other from pretty much any English Department in the US, though I may be unduly cynical in this regard.

    Be that as it may. You’ve got two sets of problems. The ones who don’t have any notion what other counties’ immigration policies are like are simply bone ignorant. This can, in theory, be cured, but usually not in college-educated adults. College educated adults have generally chosen their areas of ignorance carefully, and won’t be parted from them.

    The really discouraging problem set is the lousy quality of the logic. As you say, A is A, and American residency and citizenship cannot at once be a thing of great value when the Cambodians are deprived of it, and a thing of no value when the woman from the INS speaks. I find that much more discouraging than mere ignorance, though I can’t say it’s less common. They ought to be taught that much straight thinking before they get high school diplomas.

    Ah! The ex post fcto business: not an obstacle under the Napoleonic code which makes up most European law, by the way. Business in France are regularly fined for actions which were legal when they were done. Most of the people running down US law, constitution or customs for violating “world”–usually meaning EU–standards have no idea how many of the safeguards they rely on don’t exist outside of the English-speaking world.


    30 Jul 10 at 8:01 pm

  5. I’m guessing the above poor excuses for citizens, born or naturalized, probably think that free speech should apply only to speech they approve of, that money can be distributed ad infinitum by the government without raising taxes, and that Santa can climb down chimneys without getting dirty.

    This kind of fuzzy thinking is astonishingly widespread, if you talk to the general run of people out there. Remember, these people also believe in astrology, Area 51, and that the CIA killed Kennedy. The thing that shocks you, I suspect, is that such thinking can persist in a college environment, among allegedly educated people.

    Education, these days, does a shockingly poor job in the areas of logic, critical thinking, or the application of those to real life. The touchy-feely crap has taken over.


    30 Jul 10 at 10:36 pm

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