A few weeks ago some German papers wrote about a proposal in Berlin that would create "integration contracts" for immigrants, which would help them become "contributing members of the country's society." It would detail what Germany expected from immigrants. It included this quote from someone holding the actual title of integration commissioner, which sounds more like a job given to someone's idiot nephew than a real position.
"All who want to live and work here for the long run must say yes to our country. To this belongs proficiency in the German language, but also a readiness to take part in society."
The story's here.
I never would have seen this story except someone on a journalism board I visit posted it, along with the thought that it'd be a good thing for America, too, because what's good for Germany is...good for America? The person thought a signed contract affirming the immigrant's belief in the country's "core values" would be a very good thing. Values like knowing what the death penalty rules are in every state(?), agreeing that putting the hand on a Bible in a courtroom is a great thing, agreeing to speak English. Some of the old standbys, with a few twists - seriously, learning death penalty law in every state?
The poster agreed that immigrants to America should say yes to the country. Germany's immigration policies are of no concern to me and I don't know enough about the country's dynamics and demographics to have much of an opinion. But the poster's line about wanting something similar for the United States did make me think. And stew.
Immigrants who become American citizens already have to pass a naturalization test. They answer questions - "Who's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?" "In what year was the U.S. Constitution written?" - that would flummox probably half of all adult Americans, regardless of how many civics classes they slept through in school. But for some, like the person who advocated importing the German contract plan, that's not enough. We need a contract. Binding, I suppose.
I'm trying to picture Louise signing this contract, perhaps while stomping on her South African passport.
Her penmanship on the document would be superb, befitting someone who didn't grow up in this country. But then how does she become integrated into core American values? For one, she has to at least pick up the rudimentary rules in the Big Three Sports: Football, baseball and basketball. She doesn't have to necessarily disavow rugby and cricket in a public forum, but it'd be a start. No longer will it be acceptable to ask, as she recently did during a basketball game, "It's a good thing when the ball goes through the net, right?" She'll be tested, on the length of a football field, the amount of time on an NBA shot clock, and who the all-time RBI leader is in Major League Baseball. Failure on any of the answers? I don't know, deportation? We're talking core American values here.
And the accent has to go. If she's going to say "yes" to this country, then it's time to say no to pronouncing the t's in butter. She'll drop the South African/British sound for one more befitting her integration into this country. Midwestern is fine and close to my heart, ya know. Stereotypical Brooklynite would be acceptable and a little humorous. Texas-style? Sure. Hell, Valley Girl would even be better, anything that's American. Because if there's one thing this country values, it's sameness. Everyone should sound the same, think the same, speak the same. That's what makes a good country great. Immigrants should embrace that.
Louise already knows how to make a great apple pie, but maybe a contract will force her to understand why the dessert is so crucial to this country (note: why is it?).
What else will the contract have? For those who become citizens, will it require them to vote? A noble commitment, even if millions of eligible voters who have forever been Americans never do it, yet still spend countless hours complaining about elected officials. Taxation-and-whining-without-voting-for-representation is a core American value, one immigrants should have no trouble picking up.
The immigration process also cries out for more paperwork, so a 50-page contract - minimum - would be a welcome feature. In our overstuffed filing cabinet, we have about four folders overflowing with hundreds of pages, the result of the multi-year legal process we went through as Louise became a permanent resident. Birth records, immigration papers, passports, proof of income, proof of residence, proof of life, proof of love, lawyer's office documents...what's one more document - no matter how vague and ludicrous - going to hurt, beside the manila folder?
Thankfully, of course, no one in any position of power has suggested having an integration contract in this country, even if nameless message board folk think it's a swell idea. And I understand that when many people rail about "immigration," they're not talking about countries such as South Africa or England or Spain, but that just makes the idea even more offensive (or are they advocating different contracts for Europeans and those who come from, oh, I don't know, Mexico?).
The guy who wants immigrants to this country to say yes to America is missing the point: those people already said yes to the United States. They said it when they left their homelands, their families and everything they've known for a new land. Maybe they did it for adventure, for a job, for studies or for love. Regardless, they gave up what they knew for the great unknown. And when they arrived here, most of them became valued members of whatever community they now call home. They work just as hard, contribute just as much and often have a deeper appreciation of all this country offers than those who have been here all their lives. Perhaps they speak funny or make strange foods or have disagreements with the American government. All that means is that they've already integrated themselves perfectly.
Making them sign a contract? Maybe it'll work in Germany. Maybe it's needed there, for whatever reason. But in this country, it wouldn't be worth the imported paper it was printed on.