An e-mail exchange on immigration in the United States

I recieved the following in an e-mail yesterday (re-formatted since it was a bit obnoxious as I received it, but I didn’t change the content):

From: xxx@xxx

Subject: FW: Let’s say I break into your house

Date: February 14, 2007 4:54:16 AM EST

A lady wrote the best letter in the Editorials in ages!!!
It explains things better than all the baloney you hear on TV.

Her point:

Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration.

Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely.

Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.
Let’s say I break into your house.
Let’s say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave.
But I say, “I’ve made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors.
I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do.
I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).
According to the protesters:

  • You are Required to let me stay in your house
  • You are Required to add me to your family’s insurance plan
  • You are Required to Educate my kids
  • You are Required to Provide other benefits to me and to my family
  • (my husband will do all of your yard work because he is also hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part).
  • If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my RIGHT to be there.
  • It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself.
  • I’m a hard-working and honest, person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house.
  • And what a deal it is for me!!!
  • I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of cold, uncaring, selfish, prejudiced, and bigoted behavior.
  • Oh yeah, I DEMAND that you to learn MY LANGUAGE!!! so you can communicate with me.

Why can’t people see how ridiculous this is?! Only in America …if you agree, pass it on (in English). Share it if you see the value of it.
If not blow it off… along with your future Social Security funds, and a lot of other things.

My full response is below, but the best bit is at the end. (Corrected for grammar and some other small formatting issues):

From: sandro@xxx

Subject: Re: Let’s Say I break into your house

Date: February 14, 2007 7:57:19 AM EST

Hmm, I started writing, and now I’m having second thoughts. Here for the purposes of discourse are my two viewpoints.

[Initial Socio-Political Rant]

I think it’s backwards and silly, and I’m ashamed to belong to the same culture that generated it. I don’t *own* this country. If *you* do let me know because I have a bone to pick (or 5,000).

Furthermore, I feel privileged to have been born here; you see my parents weren’t U.S. citizens. In fact my parents weren’t even from parts of the world that we’d let in these days. But in the late sixties it was still possible for immigrants to come to this country, learn the language, get Master’s degrees, and become productive members of our society. They both took jobs working for the government (Federal and D.C.), they raised two children, paid taxes, and eventually bought a home. Along the way they both became naturalized citizens of the U.S. — a task that requires far more effort and knowledge about our history, laws, and government than most “Americans” can probably manage. This was once known as the “American Dream”.

The “American Dream” wasn’t always to have all-you-can drink frappacinos and drive a “vehicle” that makes OPEC more than the GDP of 90% of the planet. Once, people from all over the world dreamt of coming to America, working hard, and leaving their children with more than they had ever had. *That* was the “American Dream”, an immigrant’s dream. It should have been (and probably once was) called, “the American Immigrant’s Dream”. It’s a shame that the children of those immigrants don’t understand that they are the beneficiaries of our former open-door policy. The only natives of this great land got the shaft by our forefathers a great many years ago, and it’s a tragedy now to hear people whining about how *their* rights are being trampled by illegal immigrants. Legalize them. Let them work. Charge them taxes. Let them participate in the American Dream.

(Before someone quotes “The Epics of America” back at me, consider that in a post-WTO world, Frappacino drinking, SUV driving American’s are the modern, global equivalent of of the Old World nobility.)

Someone else wrote about immigrants once. It explains things better than all the baloney you get in email:

…”Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883

[Steps back. Pauses. Puts on best academic air]

The piece is an excellent example of effective rhetoric for consumption by it’s target audience.

  1. It is written in plain, unadorned language. The sentences are brief, declarative, and in active voice. The words are short, punchy and to the point. Repetitive structure is used to hammer home the points. The author knows their audience and isn’t afraid to exploit that knowledge. Yup, damn fine rhetoric anyway you slice it.
  2. It presents a (flawed) reduction U.S. immigration policy in the form of a question:
    Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.

    Missing question mark is presumed to be either an intentional indication that inquisitive sentence structure is intended to mislead, or a simple grammatical error.

  3. It bases its argument on an initial assumption (the United States is owned by you) that is:
    • Intuitive, you’re a citizen, this is *your* country isn’t it.
    • Personal, this is YOU we’re talking about. Your home, literally.
    • False, since no one person is sovereign in the US, no one person gets to make up their minds about the immigration issue. In fact it’s not even clear that a majority of U.S. citizens get to make the decision, since if we used that metric the 13th, 15th, and 19th amendments might never have made it into the Constitution. Further it is questionable, even if we take “you” to mean all U.S. citizens. The sheer number of disenfranchised citizens (residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and the penal system) argues against this idea.
  4. Breaks the situation down into a simple. understandable analogy that seems to sum up the situation. Of course it leaves out a few facts in the name of simplicity. That the omitted facts are salient to any discussion of immigration rights in this country is, of course, obvious and probably not at all important to those reading the editorial. I mean it’s SIMPLE, so what if it doesn’t make sense or isn’t accurate. Maybe this would have been a better analogy?

    Let’s say you break into a house.
    Let’s say you evict the current occupants, murder and rape some of them, then ship them off to some really undesirable place you don’t want (yet).
    Let’s say you then kidnap and enslave some other people to level the old house, and build you a bright shiny new house.
    Let’s say while they’re at it, you rape and murder a few of them.
    Let’s say once the house is done, you throw the slaves out with nothing but the shirts on their backs (and no land for them either)
    NOW Let’s say I break into THAT house.
    Let’s say that when you discover me in “your” house, you insist that I leave.
    But I say, “I’ll do the work you don’t want, and I’ll pay rent, and I’ll contribute to making the house better.
    I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do.”
    I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I acted just like you in the beginning).
    Have I mentioned that I’ll pay rent?”
    So basically the lying, cheating, rapist, murdering, house thieves want to evict the maid for breaking and entering.

But it was damn fine rhetoric, lousy logic, but damn fine rhetoric.
My debate teacher would have given it a “C“; then it would have mopped the floor with the competition in an actual (high school) debate.

So my only question is:
Was I able to learn effective rhetoric from this example?
(or more importantly did I use their own rhetorical form, plus better logic, to win the debate?)
[Sighs at how even the academic posturing sounds like a socio-political rant, and goes back to working on his real research]

-Sandro Fouche

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