Why Erect Fences in a World Without Borders?
The United States of America has long described — if not defined —itself as “a nation of immigrants,” a country enriched by those who would come here seeking an unrestricted ability to share ideas, to mingle with others from elsewhere, to learn by being inside it what a country can do if its ideational borders are unbound.
And so, as we leave behind another of our nation's birthdays, and we approach mid-July's dog days of summer, at least as defined by our favored anglophone (American) Old Farmer's Almanac and (English) Book of Common Prayer, we might be wont to wonder how our country's 240th year will be recorded for future generations. In an era when rigorous "Academic Intensive English" (AIEP) programs are beginning to eclipse the less demanding "English as a Second Language" (ESL) curricula designed less for future academics than for lower-paid workers, and when the United States Olympic sports teams and professional athletic franchises are fed by the foreign, we might wonder: Why must politicians and hoi polloi continue to argue about immigration? Why must fences continue to be proposed, why must driving permits be denied, and why must we pretend that we have become, in this 21st century, a world nearly boundaryless, if not unbound?
Canadians and Colombians, Russians, Finns, Dominicans, and Venezuelans dot our professional sports scene, where baseball players born outside the USA comprise nearly 30 percent of team members. The NBA has crowed about having “finally” managed to sign more than 100 “foreign-born” players, and even American football has contracts with players born in Korea, Haiti, and Congo. In academe, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reports that 45 percent of its PhD recipients in engineering and computer sciences were born outside the United States.
And so, I continue to wonder, do Americans have a double standard about immigration and immigrants? Do we invite engineers, physicists, computer geeks, chemists and concert pianists, baseball players and basketball stars with a kind of “free pass,” while keeping the bar higher for the hoi polloi to cross?
And why are we at the community college continuing to pursue this sort of inequity? Pasadena City College, in California, charges $46 per credit hour to California residents, but “international students” are charged $193 per credit, along with a “capital outlay” fee and a semi-annual “international student insurance fee” of $516, even if these students live and work in California. Several freeways away from Pasadena, the Los Rios Community College District charges $264 per credit hour, a $50 “foreign student application” fee, and various other matriculation expenses.
As a colleague of mine has stated at a four-year university where I also work part-time, “Why would a student choose to go to a community college and join that rat race and spend all that money when he could come here and have a better education in a more intimate setting and pay less?”
I believe that that is a good question.
Some ten years ago, Cushing and Poot (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10110-003-0188-5#page-2 ) wrote that the United States is seeing a shift from the internal, the regional, to the international, the extra-regional. In academics, as in life, more people are moving across international boundaries than are moving within national ones, they pointed out.
And rather than making it difficult for these internationals to integrate, we at the community college, the so-called crucible of change, should simplify the process. We can, after all, profit from these people. We can use them to help us in language and culture training, in geographical and historical awareness improvement, of course, but best yet, we can use their alternative perspectives, their diverse ways of dealing with questions deep and small, to help us to attain an enriched educational program that will include, not exclude. A student of mine who was educated as an engineering hydrologist in Ukraine can be used to help us during our California drought, perhaps; instead, she has been taking odd jobs filing papers and answering telephones to pay the exorbitant community college fees that she has been assessed. The student who trained as a Judaic scholar in Poland might be called upon to adjudicate when intra-Middle Eastern troubles bubble up on campus; instead, she makes money by doing bookkeeping and providing tax preparation services. The architect from Vietnam who has written for me in flowing French might find a better place than as a roofer's assistant on top of tarpaper.
How can we help? Let's think about it, because our future is not only now; it is boundless.