It’s Not the Economy, Stupid. The Spanish Language Is the Ur-Motive of Anti-Immigration Sentiment.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Ed Kilgore on the conservative hostility toward illegal immigration:

This very weekend I was reading an advance copy of an upcoming book that includes the results of some intensive focus group work with what might be called the “angry wing” of the GOP base. The author notes that one thing that simply enrages grass-roots conservatives is the use of non-English languages by immigrants.

Yep. You can read all about it from one of Kilgore’s predecessors, who wrote about it during our last big try at immigration reform in 2006. It’s based on an excellent piece by Chris Hayes, written before he sold out to the bright lights and big paychecks of cable television.

I agree that language is probably the key original driver of anti-immigrant sentiment, though it’s long since inspired further animus based around crime, gangs, social services, and other culture-related issues. The odd thing is that this is one of the few areas where I think the anti-immigrationists have a bit of a point. It’s not a very big point, since (a) Spanish occupies no official role in the United States, and (b) Latin American immigrants all end up speaking English by the second and third generations anyway. Hell, the third-generation Latino who speaks lousy Spanish is practically a cliche.

That said, I’ve long believed that having multiple official languages makes it very hard to sustain a united polity. The Swiss manage, but the whole reason they’re famous for it is because it’s so unusual. Even the Belgians and Canadians have trouble with it, and they’re pretty tolerant people.

Would a congressional declaration that English is the official language of the United States do anything to calm anti-immigrant fervor? At this point, probably not. But if it were written narrowly and carefully, I’d probably support it. I figure that if God considered a single common language such a boon that it threatened his dominion, it must be pretty powerful stuff.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate