June 5th, 2007
10:58 PM ET
12 years ago

What is an American?

WASHINGTON (CNN) - What is an American? Some of the Republican presidential candidates weighed in with their perspectives.

Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, a major illegal immigration foe, said people who come to the United States from other countries need to assimilate, and that they won't be considered Americans "until we no longer have to press one for English and two for any other language."

"It means, number one, cut from the past," Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo added. "If you come here as an immigrant, great, welcome. If you come here legally, welcome.  It means you've cut your ties with the past, familial, especially political ties with the country from which you came."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he was "very uncomfortable with" Tancredo's response.

"We should always be open to legal immigration," Giuliani said. "It reforms us. It makes us better.  It brings us people who want to make a better life for themselves and their families. If we lose that, we lose the genius that has made America what it is."

Arizona Sen. John McCain also strongly disagreed with Tancredo's response, saying that "it's beyond my realm of thinking."

"Look, America is a land of opportunity," McCain said. "The question was just asked, what is it to be an American? It's to share a common goal that all of us - a principle - are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights."

–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich

Filed under: John McCain • Rudy Giuliani • Tom Tancredo
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Bob Earl, Miami, Florida

    Tom Tancredo is right on spot.
    His short concise answers stand head and shoulders above all the other debaters with the exception of Dr. Ron Paul. The U.S. government wants us divided so they can control us. That is why the hypenated American came about. If we stand together, with no special interest then we can stop what the federal govenment is attempting to do, divide and conquer its citizens.

    June 5, 2007 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  2. Rex, Clearwater, FL

    “The question was just asked, what is it to be an American? It’s to share a common goal that all of us — a principle — are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.” So, Senator McCain, someone who has these ideals, but lives in Serbia and was born in Serbia to Serbian parents, is an American? Congressman Tancredo is pretty far to the right on the immigration issue, but he makes a fundamental point – to be an American citizen, you have to have a working knowledge of English. Senator Clinton made said during the Democratic debate that "official" English would prevent printing ballots in other languages. Hmmm...to vote, you must be a citizen...and to become a naturalized citizen, you must have a working knowledge of English. So, Senator Clinton, why is it that we need ballots in languages other than English?

    June 5, 2007 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  3. Peter F. Klokow, Canton, GA

    I was born and raised in Germany, came to this country in 1967 at age 31, after waiting 6 month for my Green Card. I made the United States my home, learned English, embraced the culture and love the United States. I raised two boys in the US and they have thanked me for teaching them to speak English properly. I graduated from college with a bachelor degree (BSEE) in 1973.
    I fully agree with Rep. Tom Tancredo and it makes me angry when I have to press "1" to speak English.

    June 5, 2007 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
  4. Luke, Shirley, NY

    An American is someone who respects other people's right to life and thinks occupying resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians is immoral and illegal. RON PAUL is an American. He wants to leave Iraq ASAP and does not want war with Iran.

    June 5, 2007 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  5. Bill Kosloskey, Petoskey MI

    Somebody who cares about why America grew to be such a great country. Someone like Ron Paul. Are you sick of hearing this CNN, Fox News, Washington Post, NY Times, and all the rest of the major media? Then stop the media bias and give ALL the candidates a shot at letting American hear their positions on the REAL issues facing America!

    June 6, 2007 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  6. Peggy Webb

    I am so upset that our legislators whose job it is to make laws are so willing to aide and assist with breaking the law; this has really changed me, I have always been a law abiding citizen but the law has been greatly devalued in my eyes. If congress does not uphold our laws who will. How can you propose to reward illegal immigrants for breaking our laws. Do we let thieves out of jail for stealing if it was done for the right reason...no. So, it's not the breaking of the law, it's the why the law was broken. All these pro immigration senators and congressmen will get the message when they are up for re-election. Remember, the people put you in office, not the lobbyists.

    June 6, 2007 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  7. Jason, Vancouver, Canada

    It was funny how he said a bilingual country doesn't work.

    Funny, Canada seems to be prospering, as are many European countries.

    June 6, 2007 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  8. Cameron, Galesburg, Illinois

    I'm very uncomfortable with Rep. Tancredo's statements as well. It makes more comfortable though, that I know he'll never be elected. It's ignorant and elitist to say English is the only language that can be spoken in America. Tancredo makes it sound like speakers of other languages better just get in shape because he doesn't "feel" like pushing a button. America is what is, and it's always changing and we need to be open to that change. This is the kind of attitude that gives America the image on a nation of snots, that are too big for our own britches. English will probably always be our primary language but is America really about speaking english? Would freedom and liberty and the joys of America be any less sweet in espanol? Whatever happens happens. Tancredo's comments disgust me.

    June 6, 2007 02:31 am at 2:31 am |
  9. Annette, Tillatoba, MS

    People do need to learn English if they live in the U.S. They can go on speaking their own native language, no one will stop them from doing that. I agree with Tancredo on this. He is dead wrong on the so-called war issue, though. Ron Paul is the only candidate who has the integrity to tell the truth about this so-called war. (Empire building and policing the world.) The Constitution is pretty clear about staying out of foreign entanglements. The only persons gaining in this shameful "war" are the rich and greedy.

    June 6, 2007 04:43 am at 4:43 am |
  10. Ilhares, St. Paul, MN

    I've got friends of all flavors in this fine country, many of them legal immigrants from other countries. While we often rib each other over our status as citizens, nobody has disagreed: If you're going to be a citizen, learn the lingo. That's English, kids.

    We don't go to France, Germany, or Spain and expect the locals have to speak english to appease us.

    McCain is right about it being the "Land of Opportunity", it isn't the "Land of Handouts" – you're supposed to work to get ahead. You work to make the good life for yourself and your families.

    If Tancredo is on the ballot, he's getting our votes.

    June 6, 2007 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  11. Stephanie, Elkton, MD

    "Assimilate" is a funny word, once we (America) tried to assimilate the Native Americans. We changed their names, broke them away from their tribes, made them speak english, and forced them into the "white" and "american" way of life. Opps. It was a mistake, one that Americans are apologetic for. But can we learn from this past mistake? Or repeat them in the future? Tancredo needs to be careful with his words (although I doubt he will be).

    June 6, 2007 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  12. Robert Latham, Sterling Virginia

    In response to Peggy Webb. You must have failed high school civics. It is not Congress' job to uphold and enforce the laws, that's the President. It's not their job to interpret the laws...that's the Supreme Court. If you're making laws that is helping someone break the law they're no longer breaking it now are they? You know up until the rightwingers were trying to win over the uneducated and racist we called Illegal immigrants "undocumented". Yes we have a problem with undocumented immigrants in this country, but sending them all home is not the solution.

    June 6, 2007 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  13. JS, Heartland of America

    Many great posts above. Tancredo was "grinding his axe" a little sharply, but the point of "pressing 1" is well taken, even if it makes us "uncomfortable".

    A definition of "what is an "American" is found in our original secular motto "E Pluribus Unum" – "one from many". When immigrants have come to America in the past, they have assimilated to the national culture – the big "melting pot" – adopting "American" traditions, culture, heritage as their own. Many Americans don't see that same level of desire in the new generation of immigrants from Mexico.

    I don't completely agree with the whole "English only" aspect. There are some "Americans" – born and bred – who find it hard to put together a coherent sentence in English – and one of them currently holds the highest office in the land right ("the decider" or is it "the commander guy"?).

    Being an American doesn't mean that you forget your ancestors, but as with many things in life you must "go along to get along". Immigrants don't help themselves when they don't wish to learn the language that natural-born Americans had to learn from childhood. Americans don't help immigrants by "coddling" and granting "amnesty" on any aspect of immigration, including learning and using the language of your new country.

    Then again, if the population experts are correct, by 2050 white Americans will be the ones who'll be learning the "new language" when Hispanics become the majority. This whole argument will seem rather silly, even moreso than it does today. Then again, if we continue to allow our freedom and rights to be taken away at the expense of "security" – if we continue "empire building" while our own "empire" crumbles around us – if we continue to be "big bad bully on the block" and continue the practice of "pre-emptive strikes" against weaker nations we deem a "threat to national security", as Dr. Ron Paul suggested – then maybe we won't have to worry because there WON'T BE a "United States of America" for immigrants looking for a new home.

    "You have a Republic...if you can keep it" ~ Benjamin Franklin

    June 6, 2007 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  14. Carel Trojan , Atlanta , GA

    I was born and raised in Europe and came to United States 6 years ago. With College degree in Information Technology as an exchange student. Started working for a big corporation with many factories and offices across the whole world. I've met my girlfriend down here in Peach State.
    Went back to Europe still working for the same corporation, but I missed my girlfriend so much that I decided to quit the very nice job, applied for another Visa and went back here with no sure plan for future, only knowing that I want to be with her. I've found a new job, continued my education and become Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Which I paid for myself. In order to be with my girlfriend and not to get married right away I overstayed my visa and become illegal ! I pay all taxes, I'm insured and do not owe a penny to anybody. So when I hear people say that illegals should stand in a line and wait for their turn it makes me angry. It is an empty phrase, there is NO LINE ! Go to uscis website and find for yourself, if you don't have any relatives here or big sponsor that will apply for your Visa then there is no chance for people like me to simply apply for a legal residency. And therefore have a chance to live and share future with my girlfriend. We were together for 6 years and still are together, maybe we should get married but we didn't want to do it for the "paper". And do you think that people like me who came here legally and do everything that a proper resident a citizen should do ( sometimes better then some citizens) should be thrown in the same group of "bad guys" with people who jumped the fence ?

    June 6, 2007 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  15. Brian, Milwaukee, WI

    I was shocked when I first heard Rep. Tancredo's response. This incredibly arrogant response of his is what will be broadcast to the rest of the world as a typical "American viewpoint." No wonder our country's foreign policy and international relations are in such an embarrassing state. I'm disgusted to think that the rest of this world–which only the most ignorant among us would think has no impact on our own domestic success–may very well believe that Americans have such dangerously xenophobic and elitist sentiments. What disgusts me most, however, is that some people actually agree with Tancredo and have the gall to put it in writing.

    June 6, 2007 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  16. David, Gilbert Arizona

    Tancredo, as well as many others, seem to forget that the English only law has already been tried multiple times in the past. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the laws unconstitutional.

    I understand and agree with many of the agruments against a guest worker program and the X,Y, and Z visas but Tancredo comes across as a xenophobe. Not only is he against illegal immigration, he's against ANY immigration. This country was established through immigration. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of our immigrant background. Tancredo would do well to remember that. No matter, he will never be nominated for president anyway.

    June 6, 2007 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  17. George, Champaign, IL

    Language is important, but even more critical is the sense of patriotism, which happens to be somewhat reflected by one's language preference.
    And to Jason from Vancouver, Canada: Were you there at the 1995 referendum where Quebec almost became an independent country? I was there.

    June 6, 2007 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  18. Niki Messmore Metamora, OH

    "It means you’ve cut your ties with the past, familial, especially political ties with the country from which you came.”

    Rep. Tancredo's comment absolutly disgusts me. America is the great "Stir-Fry' (the new take on the Melting Pot idea). Who on earth is he to say that all these ties must be severed? Who is he to say that FAMILY TIES must be severed?

    It was my thought that American Republicans valued FAMILY within their platform.

    Apparently that value is only applied to a person's family if they are American citizens.

    June 6, 2007 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  19. Alex Luthor, Madison, WI

    I started crying during Tancredo's reply to the "What is an American?" question. At last, a politician who feels how most Americans feel. A politician who is passionate about our beliefs. He didn't change his tune to attract votes. I really hope he stays in the race, because the candidates who reflect most of my beliefs are pro-amnesty, and I consider this election to be the last hope for the American people. When it comes time to vote, it is this issue that will be my #1 criteria.

    June 6, 2007 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  20. Liberty Silver

    An American is someone who upholds
    the Constitution. Who believes
    we have inalienable rights.
    We need a President who knows this.
    And who will get back the rights
    granted by the Constitution of the
    United States and the Bill of rights.
    Any true American would want that.

    June 6, 2007 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  21. Juelya, San Antonio, TX

    The question was, What is an American? Do they really know? I was born and raised an American. I serve my country as an American, I am a LEGAL and law abiding citizen. I speak English and love MY LAND. English is my first and only language.

    I am an American

    June 9, 2007 11:05 am at 11:05 am |