Senator McKoon, Tear Down Your Wall

Georgia Senator Joshua McKoon has proposed a state constitutional amendment to require that all government business be conducted in English and it makes no good sense. As a citizen with one foot still in Georgia (and the other foot looking for better soil to trod), this moronic initiative bothered me when I first heard of it, but it has really stuck in my craw and I must now speak out.

For starters, Atlanta is among the most international of cities in the nation. Atlanta has the busiest airport in the nation and it is home to numerous diplomatic consulates. A considerable portion of the state’s economy owes to agriculture which necessarily requires migrant labor. Some of that labor has legal status; most does not. What message does an English-only mandate send? What impact will that message have on Georgia’s economic prosperity? And how much will it cost taxpayers to enforce the mandate?

Beyond human insensitivity, there are issues of public safety. The public has a compelling interest in seeing that those who contract highly communicable diseases are comfortable visiting a public health clinic, and non-English speakers need to understand the seriousness of such illnesses. Non-English speakers will also drive whether they have a license or not. So if we must share the road with those drivers, wouldn’t it make the most sense to ensure that they have a fundamental understanding of the rules of the road? It is even more imperative that driver examinations be offered in other languages because, unlike those of us who are native English speakers, non-native speakers might have a completely different cultural frame of reference that could be very contrary to our driving customs and practices. That makes unlicensed operation of a vehicle all the more perilous for them and for us.

But while I am on the subject of driver licenses, Georgia (and perhaps even the nation) needs to rethink its practices for issuance or nonissuance of driver licenses. True, we use driver licenses as identity documents, but there is nothing forcing the two purposes to be so joined. As a former university professor and as a fluent speaker of English, Spanish, and French, I have known many undocumented residents of the state. Many had driver licenses from their home countries when they arrived. By international treaty, those licenses must be honored. Georgia, however, deems any person a resident of the state after thirty days, and Georgia law requires that every resident, except students and military, obtain a Georgia driver license. But Georgia also will not issue a driver license to any person who cannot prove lawful presence. Those marginalized persons number in the hundreds of thousands. They drive to work, to church, to parties, to school—they do everything that licensed drivers do except prove their driving competency and insure their vehicles. I can attest that the licensed DACA individuals that I have known generally carry liability insurance and it is my belief that nearly every undocumented alien would obtain a license and insurance if the door were opened. This would make Georgia far safer than an English-language mandate.

If Senator McKoon’s interests lie in making Georgia a better state, he should rethink how driver licenses are issued. It is in the interest of public safety for every person to have a driver license. What’s more, enabling every person to have a license serves a greater law enforcement purpose by establishing records of names and photographs. This helps track down the bad guys and the deadbeats not paying child support. Issuing driver licenses to undocumented residents is as simple as embossing them with the words “Invalid for Identification” or “Non-ID Driver Permit.” I would even suggest that anyone who seeks to obtain such a license must submit to full fingerprinting so that their identity is not an issue and so that any law breakers can be identified and removed. That would leave just the law-abiding ones who empower Georgia’s economic machine and who contribute to society.

Knee-jerk legislation is always a bad, terrible, horrible practice. And let’s call this initiative what it is: Hispanic xenophobia. I seriously doubt Senator McKoon was conceiving of the Chinese man who prepares his take-out or the Vietnamese woman who does his wife’s mani-pedis. I doubt he was thinking of the German executive who works for Mercedes-Benz, the Korean official, the French Canadian secretary, and the Japanese janitor who all work in their Atlanta consulates. I doubt he was thinking of the Haitian with TPS or the recently arrived Filipino who fled drugs and assassinations to live safely with his extended family. No, Senator McKoon’s concern was those who speak Spanish.

Senator McKoon’s official biography presents him as a church-going Catholic, but he seems to have forgotten the scriptures that command treating the foreigner as ourselves and as our neighbors. Exodus 22:21 admonishes us to “not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way” (see also Deuteronomy 10:19). Likewise, Leviticus 19:34 instructs us that “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself” (see also Jeremiah 22:3, and Zechariah 7:10).

Senator McKoon, showing kindness and love to an unlawful foreigner does not mean that you condone their unlawful presence. As a Christian, learn the ways of the great teacher. As a Republican hear the words of the great Republican. Tear down your wall of hate and renounce your path of prejudice by withdrawing SR 587. And if your interests are to make Georgia great, consider introducing the driver legislation discussed herein.

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