Looking carefully at that which is unseen.

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Thinking about: Immigration

A month already. My, how time flies when time’s flying. Thirty days having passed, it’s another installment of Off The Bench, where we discuss everything but court matters. And where I strive to avoid the temptation to spend 800 words picking on my editor.

Fortunately for the first substantive column I did not have to work hard to find a topic. The June 1, 2013 Herald contains a letter which asks the pertinent hot-topic question, “Why are there no Herald editorials on immigration?” Reader service is just one of my middle names, so with that in mind, let’s talk about immigration. Granted, this is a column, rather than an editorial, but letter generation is the overall intent and it’s the spirit that counts.

Let’s start with a definition. Looking online, I find, ” The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.” Close enough for government work.

Now some history and sociology: First and foremost, every living soul in this land is either an immigrant, or descended from immigrants. Period. While it might be interesting historically that some residents walked here during an ice age, while others thought that waiting for the Industrial Revolution and the invention of aircraft was less burdensome, nevertheless the only way that people have gotten here has been by way of immigration. America is a nation founded on immigration.

Despite that, attitudes toward subsequent immigrants have see-sawed over the centuries. I’m confident that some First Americans regret that their ancestors did not have tighter immigration rules. Which brings us to a huge point in the current debate over immigration; the descendants of people who benefitted from lax immigration policies are now turning around and trying to “pull up the ladder” to others who possibly want the same opportunities.

Dislike for immigrants by those already here is not new. In the mid-19th century, signs saying “No Irish Need Apply” were not uncommon, and Chinese railroad builders were not allowed to bring their wives with them. Even when immigration did occur, immigrants frequently found themselves clustered together in different ways: the “poor” part of town, or Chinatowns or, in Pennsylvania coal country, little towns almost exclusively Scots-Irish, or Polish, or Italian. Little areas full of “Thems” who quite obviously weren’t “Us.”

Despite the eventual acceptance and assimilation of all of those “thems” into modern America, we are still having discussions about “Them.” Now, “They” are generally Hispanic, though the Department of Homeland Security reports that there are more than a few “illegal” Chinese, Irish, Filipino, Indian, and Others hiding out here. There are three frequent complaints about “Them:” “They” didn’t wait in line to do it legally; “They” are taking more than they’re giving; or “They” are not assimilating, not becoming part of America. There are others, some interesting, some contemptible, but let’s look at these three.

“They” didn’t wait in line goes away fairly quickly. Until recently, most immigrants had nothing more than a wait and a medical check to get into the country, if that much. The Republic did not fall with a short admissions process, it’s not going to fall if the same – with, say, an added criminal history check – were instituted now.

The second, “They” take more than they give, is disputed, but assume it’s true. The solution to that is, again, simple – make entitlements contingent on citizenship. The staunchest libertarian would agree that a welfare state cannot coexist with open borders, and since we apparently can’t close the borders, the answer is to close the open welfare state.

The final problem … “They” are not assimilating, is a more serious one. To the extent that someone residing in a foreign country chooses not to assimilate – I certainly didn’t assimilate much, living in Korea – that is his decision and if not learning the language or customs or laws handicaps the person, so be it. But I’m not convinced that the host nation should bear any cost involved in catering to the “guest” population. For instance, I’m not sure that printing government documents in multiple languages is helpful. It arguably enables residents – legal or otherwise – to continue their separation. Since separation, rather than assimilation, is not something that holds a nation together, the more a nation’s population is separated, the more likely it is for bad things to happen.

Ask any Yugoslavian you happen to meet.

But that’s just the opinion of an opinionated guy. Let’s hear your opinions on the topic – don’t let the air between you and the keyboard (or pen and paper) hold you back! Tell us what you think either by sending letters to the editor or by emailing me at hermistonheraldoffthebench@gmail.com for use in future columns. Names of the terminally shy will be withheld on request.

Let’s fire this up again

Since the local paper wants a second, non-court column out of me, I may as well get back to work here as well. Here, let me explain:

So there I was, minding my own business – for a value of “minding my own business” equal to “seeing if the paper still wanted to run Courtside” – at the Hermiston Herald, when, using “The Voice” – not to be confused with a TV show of the same name – the editor suddenly asked:


Now the only way to describe The Voice to people who don’t work with editors on any sort of regular basis is to say that it’s like Darth Vader’s, but without any of his warmth and humor. The question, though, is “why would Herald readers want a second column?”


Had to be a lucky guess, because I have absolutely no idea how the editor came to that conclusion about a bland and harmless little furball like myself, after only a few minutes of conversation.


Like I said. Lucky guess.


Here’s the problem. The working relationship between editors and columnists can best be described as identical to the “working relationship” seen between lions and gazelles in any National Geographic program that carries the warning “Some Material Not Suitable For Children Under 40.” As an aside, I’d planned to describe the relationship as the one between the lion and the gnu, but apparently the editor still has some psychic trauma from a petting zoo incident in third grade.


Right. Moving on.

I’ve written and columned – if that’s a verb – for newspapers since high school. In my experience, working with newspapers involves working with information. Events of interest, analysis of ideas, ads for “desperate lion seeks tasty gazelle,” that sort of thing. Ultimately, newspapers are all about thinking. News for the basis, opinion for the structure, ads for tasty gazelles to pay the costs of printing. Good newspapers work to encourage readers to think about things (preferably about things other than gazelle recipes) and to take a general interest in life, the universe, and everything.

An important part of that encouragement requires the newspaper to have credibility. As I tell my public speaking students, credibility can come from many sources. Education, training, observation, all can play into establishing credibility. But one of the best forms comes from “personal experience.” How can a local paper achieve “personal experience?” Well, with local news and local opinion, for starters. People who can look out a window and have some idea as to what’s going on in Hermiston, as opposed to some columnist in New York City (or even Portland) who couldn’t find Hermiston with a map of Oregon and a ten minute head start.

Now, people write in newspapers all the time – we call those “letters to the editor.” Letters to the editor are the sorts of things that would warm the cockles of an editor’s heart, presuming editors had hearts, of course.


The reason that letters are so heartwarming is because it means people are reading and thinking about what’s in the paper. They don’t have to agree – oh, not in the slightest. In fact, some of the most interesting letters are ones that disagree with what an editor or a columnist has written! At least, disagreements that are thoughtful – “Your column of July 30th was complete and utter manure” is not a comment that is conducive to further discussion, sadly. Not unusual, just not conducive to dialog.

Which brings us to the question of the hour: Just what the heck will this new column be about?


Called that one right. The new column – well, we’re going to test fire pretty much the whole world outside of the court and legal processes. Humor, history, news, economics, sociology – I can make your eyes bleed writing about sociology, ask my professors – just about anything in the world, except sports. There’s a whole sports section for sports comments and they don’t need any help from me there, thankyouverymuch. Dialog with letter writers, news bits that catch my eye, occasional “broader” issues, but the commentary is really supposed to be local. Can’t promise that it will always be, but feel free to fire up the ol’ word processor and complain to the editor about how the Off The Bench column is talking about events in Lower Absurdistan again, and that really doesn’t relate to Hermiston very well.

One other thing. Out of deference to the editor, we will not be discussing anything regarding the gnu.


Because, without doubt, as far as my editor is concerned – no gnus is good gnus.