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By Miriam [Mimi] Pollack

February 3, 2017 (El Cajon) -- Imagine you have had a good life with a stable job and family. Then, imagine that your life turns upside down, be it from war, religious persecution, or social unrest, and you have to start from scratch in a new country with a different language, culture, even alphabet! Welcome to the world of many of my adult ESL [English as a Second Language] students. Despite all that they have gone and continue to go through, they are very grateful to be here

Some people fear the unknown, and are suspicious of newcomers, so I’d like to give you a glimpse of my world. I have been both an adult and community college ESL teacher at SDCE Mid-City Center and Grossmont College for over 30 years. I have worked with people from all over the world and their resilience never ceases to amaze me. In one class, I can have students ranging in age from 18 to 65 and from different socioeconomic and academic backgrounds, but they all have a mutual goal. They want to learn English and forge a better life for themselves and their children. For the most part, it is not easy.

For example, many of the Middle Eastern students arrive with horrific stories to tell about losing family members, about bombs and kidnappings, and about living every day with fear and uncertainty.  They view this country as a haven, but then a harsh reality sets in. They have a sense of stability and freedom here, but they also have to learn a new language, find a place to live, find a job, enroll their children in school, learn how to drive, and navigate all the different paths that come with a new life. It can be daunting. I have had students who study during the day, work all night, and get by on two-three hours sleep!

Yet, they don’t give up. The good news is many of them thrive and go on to become productive citizens. We ESL teachers have had so many success stories! Back in the late 1980s, I had a shy Vietnamese student in my evening class who became a primary care doctor at Kaiser. In fact, his office is next door to my doctor’s office! I had a student from Guatemala who is now a popular teacher at Morse High School. He also does community volunteer work. There was my Iranian student who went on to become an engineer and is currently working for the city of San Diego. Then, there was my Somali student who had never gone to school in her country. She learned how to read and write here. Today, she is getting ready to attend college as well as being a wife and mother.

Right now, there are my Iraqi students at Grossmont College. These students are Chaldean, Muslim, and Kurdish, and they do not take for granted how lucky they are to be here.  President Trump’s executive order surprises and saddens them, especially those who worked with the American military. They can’t understand why the men who worked with American soldiers and risked their lives are not allowed to come now with their families. Yet, they don’t lose hope. They see bright futures for their children and encourage them to study hard.

 We have a young man who shines as a tutor in our ESL program at Grossmont College. His wise father encouraged him to take college classes. This young man came up the ranks in our program and decided he wants to give back. His love of learning is infectious.  He is a full time student, who in addition to tutoring also works 25 hours a week at a liquor store, sometimes dealing with crazy customers.

Finally, all of the Middle Eastern students have been thoroughly vetted before they get here, many waiting several years and going through many interviews before they are allowed in. We all have our prejudices, but I would hope that as a nation of immigrants [I am the Jewish granddaughter of immigrants], we could rise above those prejudices and the fear of the unknown and welcome these new immigrants who want to make a new life for themselves and enrich their adopted land.

Miriam [Mimi] Pollack is an ESL instructor and freelance writer.

The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact

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While in a certain extent I do agree with you on the tremendous improvement to the American way of life is due to legal immigration I do have to take issue with some things.
First I am all for LEGAL immigration. I am against ILLEGAL immigration. Why? Well for one, those illegal aliens are taking "cuts" in front of those that have waited YEARS to become citizens. Let's not even get into the infections diseases that cross our borders uncontrolled each and every day like TB, swine flu, dengue fever, and Ebola virus. You working at local schools have seen the letters that have come home from our kids.
As to the "kids" that have seen horrible things growing up. Don't take me as heartless but why doesn't Saudi Arabia take them? They wouldn't have the language barrier, there would be jobs and schools. Have you seen the refugee centers they have set up that doesn't have a single person living in them? Why is it OUR financial responsibility to take care of them while we have vets committing suicide every day and are homeless with no help?
How about the inherent corruption that has come into East county?
Shall I be specific? OK
The Iraqi club was busted for working with the Sinaloa drug cartel for prostitution, making IED's, in possession of hand grenades and automatic weapons, meth and heroin!!!
The Arab culture as a whole (yes of course there are exceptions) are completely different from ours. The adherence to law is not like other cultures. I know this as a fact as I have not just seen it. The "cash only" that flows underground in that community would make your head spin.
How about the rampant welfare fraud? Had a guy in my complex whose wife drove a brand new paper plated Toyota Land Cruizer that is typically a $60,000 vehicle. His second vehicle was a junker. I have an Iraqi friend that I was down at the pool with and he overheard a conversation between his wife and another woman who just arrived from Iraq with her 5 children speaking in Arabic. He told me they were talking about how to scam the welfare system.
Here is what they are doing. They come over without showing they are married. The wife and kids get on food stamps, Medi Cal, section 8 housing, and monthly assistance $$$ and every program possible. They said that there were specific people to go to at the welfare office that get more for Iraqis. They say that the male in the house is the boyfriend and show the junker car as hers. No income. The "Boyfriend" has the nice vehicle and even though he had a family owned pizza shop he showed he was a part time min wage employee with pockets full of cash. How do I know? I handed him his paycheck that he dropped in the parking lot.
Want to hear the other scam?
They have a group that is funded to purchase houses for Iraqi's only by adding money into their account so they qualify for the home then pull the money out after escrow closes for the next home.
Another one in my complex was purchased at market value. Then sold for half market value to the family member to reduce insurance and yearly taxes on the home!!! Any guess that the family member was able to take a HUGE tax deduction on the "loss" of value on the home?
It is more widespread than you could ever imagine from what a realtor friend of mine told me.
Is this Arab only? Of course not but it IS more rampant in the Arab community.

How about this one. Local restaurant in East County that had been here for years. Property was purchased and as soon as his lease was up they refused to re lease. Not for any price. It is well known to many of the small businesses in the community that if an Arab buys up the property you are out as soon as your lease is up and ONLY Arabs will be allowed to rent or lease.
Put your ear to the pulse of this town and you will see the growing distrust of our immigrants.