By Tracy Dingmann
I finally got the chance to speak with English as a Second Language teacher Melissa Ann Jameson about the headline on the June 6 immigration package she helped the Journal compile regarding the current debate over immigration policies.
Jameson worked with the paper to present the flip side of the immigration issue – the immigrant’s side – which hasn’t gotten told much in the media.
As I wrote on June 7, the Journal blew out an entire page with a guest column from Jameson and six letters from her immigrant students. The letters contained personal stories about the immigrants and explained why they had come to America.
The students, Jameson wrote, had been moved to write the letters after reading pages of previous Journal letters to the editor, all denouncing the very presence of undocumented immigrants in New Mexico.
I wanted to ask Jameson about the appropriateness of the Journal using the word “illegal” in the headline to describe people, but by the time we finally talked, we had a whole new topic to cover. On Sunday June 13, the Journal had printed the letters that came in response to the immigration package – and it was pretty ugly.
“I am sure that Ms. Jameson and the Journal thought this page would serve to make people all teary-eyed and sympathetic. Rather, it caused me to become even more hardened against illegal immigrants and their plight, due to the sense of entitlement these letters expressed,” wrote one man.
“Let’s see people working on fixes rather than boycotts or crying about ‘civil rights’ identification requests,” wrote another.
In some cases, the readers’ rage seemed to go beyond immigration and hint at something else.
“Incidentally, I am outraged that my tax dollars even go to teach a class called “English as a Second Language,” one reader wrote.
Jameson said she had expected to get a backlash from Journal readers.
“The demographic that reads the Albuquerque Journal has a very different take on immigration in general, and, as evidenced by the letters, a huge lack of accurate information about our immigration system and what the issues are.”
For example, Jameson said, most readers seem to believe that coming to America legally is simply a matter of standing in the right line for a long enough time.
“While that might seem like a very reasonable thing to envision, I know lots of people who have tried everything to be here legally, and there is simply not a line for them to stand in. There are very specific requirements for each type of visa.”
Jameson said she also thinks people don’t know that if someone is here illegally and wants to become legal, they may be forced to leave their families behind in the U.S. for as long as three years while they return to their country of origin to await the process of legalization.
“Most reasonable, patriotic Americans would agree that we have to have a system that allows for the legal, dignified immigration of people in rational way. Filing out forms, waiting a reasonable amount of time, etc. And what we have is not that.”
Getting people to understand and care about the issues that undocumented people face is made even harder by the fear factor that surrounds the debate, Jameson said.
“If your information sources tell you that ‘X’ group of people are bad, scary criminals who are coming to take away everything that you have ever worked for in your life, then, yes, it makes sense that people will be scared.”
America has an interesting dual history of being built by immigrants, but – at the same time – of being very vicious to certain immigrant groups like the Irish and the Chinese, Jameson said.
The current lack of compassion toward immigrants is a curious choice, especially for people who say they are people of faith, said Jameson.
“The issue of how we treat strangers who are different from us – who scare us – is not a new question,” she said. “Foreigners seeking shelter in a new land – this is something that all the major religions in history have talked about. And they all basically say it is a sin in the eyes of whatever deity you worship to inherently (compare) people who immigrate with criminals. This has been preached against and taught for 3,000 years.”
“Preaching compassion is not some new, lefty idea. It’s something that’s been around much longer.”
Oh, and about that headline the Journal put on her column – the one that used the word “illegal,” she had this to say:
“It’s not the language I chose to use, but I’m not surprised and I don’t think it took away from the power of the package. I take it with a grain of salt.”