OUR OPINION: Come learn, talk about immigration in GF-EGF

"Why should the Palatine Boors (Germans) be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours?...

"Why should the Palatine Boors (Germans) be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours?

"Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?"

So wrote Ben Franklin in 1751 about the "swarthy" German immigrants then moving into Pennsylvania. By the mid-1800s, the Irish wave had replaced the German; that's when the Chicago Post had this to say:

"The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses. ... Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country."

A few decades later, Chinese immigrants started arriving in great numbers, prompting the most serious backlash of all: the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which not only extinguished the lamp beside the Golden Door but also locked that door to new immigrants from China for almost 100 years.


All of which is background for an important event in Grand Forks this evening: a public screening of the documentary "Welcome to Shelbyville," which centers on the tensions that immigration sparks today.

In a farsighted move, Grand Forks city officials are inviting residents to come see the movie and then talk about it, as well as about any concerns they may have about immigration in Grand Forks.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. in the Empire Arts Center.

In the movie, "independent filmmaker Kim Snyder documents the reaction of different segments of a small town in Tennessee to the newcomers (from Somalia) in 2008," Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran reported Wednesday.

"It included voices from whites, blacks, Hispanics, some welcoming, some not very welcoming at all. The Somalis, being black and Muslim, seemed to have ignited deep-seated fears in some, resentment in others who believe the immigrants took their jobs, and feelings of moral responsibility in still others."

Some Shelbyville residents are blunt to the point of being rude in their comments, say Grand Forks officials who've seen the movie. But their concerns are worth talking about, in part to spread the word that Grand Forks actively is responding by helping immigrants integrate and so stop problems before they start.

The police department, the school district, social-service agencies and others all are involved. By launching a Citizens' Academy, for example, the groups are teaching immigrants about American culture, traditions, language and law.

Showing tonight's film and encouraging the discussion afterward also are meant to help the city get out front.


Ben Franklin's concerns have echoed through the ages and capture many people's feelings about immigrants in 2011. But each wave of immigration left America better off, as the Founding Father would be the first to admit today. Grand Forks' proactive efforts and platoons of involved citizens are big steps for the city toward the same outcome.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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