A false Peace Corps characterization

To the Daily:

As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I take exception to a number of comments in Tuesday’s article, “University ranks fifth in grads joining Peace Corps” (01/29/2008). Clearly, the concerns that LSA senior Claudia Williams expressed about some volunteers’ motivations and experience are legitimate, as they are in most fields. For example, not every doctor enters the medical profession to save lives. At the same time, to reduce the value of Peace Corps service to the “educational value of travel” indicates a misconception about the program and, more personally, trivializes two years of my life.

To begin with, while a lot of young adults choose to enter the Peace Corps, many volunteers bring years of professional and life experience to their service. Take, for example, the entering class at my Peace Corps post. We counted among our ranks a lawyer, two teachers, 15 engineers, two accountants, a computer programmer, four public health specialists, an executive from a prestigious multinational firm and the director of the human resources department of a large public university. Perhaps more importantly, the rigorous three-month, in-country training that we received before our service was designed not only to prepare us for the technical challenges of the field, but also to help us develop the skills needed to help our host-country counterparts evaluate and address challenges in their communities on their own terms and with their own resources.

Secondly, rather than imposing its development plan on foreign countries, the Peace Corps only creates posts in countries that have extended the organization an explicit invitation. In other words, the Peace Corps doesn’t send volunteers to a country based on the American perception of the needs of that country’s people, something that would be “patronizing (to) the people of developing countries.” Instead, it responds to a country’s request for assistance in specific areas and works with the country to develop programs that best address these needs.

Finally, skepticism of Peace Corps volunteers’ “do-gooder mentality” exemplifies the cynicism that the Peace Corps works to counteract, both in the America and abroad. During my two years in Panama, the country where I had the great honor and privilege to serve, I questioned my ability to communicate effectively, defend myself and my home against an infiltration of venomous snakes and survive the heat, while Panamanians questioned my eating habits, ability to dance the cumbia and deftness with a machete. We never questioned my sincerity or our ability to work together to find ways to improve our lives.

And ultimately, I know that when I return to Panama this February I will be greeted with the hugs and smiles from some of the best friends that I have ever had and ever will have. I call that a lot of things, but patronizing or disingenuous it is not.

Jon Fazzola

Law school and Public Policy

Limiting licenses strengthens security

To the Daily:

I am writing in response to the Daily’s editorial Monday “Taken for a Ride” (01/28/2008) to clarify some confusion about who may or may not obtain a driver’s license in Michigan.

Recently, state Attorney General Mike Cox issued Opinion 7210 in response to a question from a state legislator about whether the Secretary of State is required to issue a driver’s license to an illegal immigrant living in Michigan.

This opinion, based on both Michigan and federal law, as well as the U.S. Constitution, came to the common-sense conclusion that “It would be inconsistent (with that body of law) to find that a person in this country illegally … can be regarded as a permanent resident in Michigan.” To strip away the legal jargon, if the federal government does not offer an individual legal status, then that individual is an illegal immigrant. Neither Michigan nor any other state, should offer that individual legal residency.

However, if an immigrant is in America legally, that person may be entitled to a driver’s license under applicable Michigan law. The attorney general’s opinion mentions that certain immigrants, who by the terms of their admission to this country are allowed to establish permanent legal residence in America, cannot be discriminated against. In fact, these individuals must be treated like any other person residing in Michigan.

Certain other immigrants who are here legally but are not permitted under the terms of their visas to establish residency, may need statutory changes to make them eligible for a state-issued driver’s license. In the meantime, these immigrants may still drive with their previously issued and still-valid drivers’ licenses or with licenses issued by their home countries.

This is not an esoteric argument. As the editorial correctly noted, “(a) driver’s license counts as more than just a pass to drive a car . it is a basic form of identification.” Thousands of Americans died when 19 terrorists, all carrying state-issued drivers’ licenses and identification cards, seized planes and destroyed buildings. Michigan, with three international bridges and one international tunnel, cannot afford to take this issue lightly.

Rusty Hills

Director of Communications for Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox

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