It shouldn't take a tsunami to arouse American interest

While I agree with your Dec. 30 editorial, "When Global Hearts Open," that the popular response to the Sumatra earthquake and tsunamis has been heartening, I'm discouraged that once again it's taken a natural disaster to make Americans care about South and Southeast Asia.

This region is critical to the United States for a variety of reasons. Among them: It's home to a quarter of the world's population; it occupies a space of strategic military and commercial importance between West and East; and it has expanding economies that promise our country both new customers and new competition.

Yet how many Americans could have found Sri Lanka on the map before Dec. 26? Or could have told you that India is the world's largest democracy? Or that Thailand was once Siam? Or that Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population?

These countries have some of the most remarkable histories, cultures, arts, and natural beauty in the world - not just the poverty and civil strife you occasionally read about.

We would do well to get to know them better, and not just when they're suffering on the front page.
Robert J. Inlow
Charlottesville, Va.

Uniform immigration policy needed

Regarding William Birdthistle's Dec. 29 Opinion piece, "Immigration process leaves harsh imprint": What Mr. Birdthistle and others tend to forget is that while immigration is always beneficial to immigrants, it is not always beneficial to Americans.

Mass legal and illegal immigration, which now totals more than 1 million yearly, has an enormous impact on every aspect of life for Americans as well as for the immigrants.

Immigration is a public policy, and like every other American public policy, its first priority must be the needs and interests of the American people.

Immigration policy should consider the interests of people who have to compete for jobs with immigrants, whose kids attend schools that are increasingly crowded with non-English-speaking kids, and who rely on health and public services that are increasingly overwhelmed by the needs of newcomers.

Birdthistle is absolutely correct that US immigration laws need to be less convoluted. We need a uniform policy that lets everyone - natives as well as prospective immigrants - know what the rules are and that they will be enforced.
Ira Mehlman
Los Angeles
Media Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)

Does hijab bring respect?

I read the Dec. 27 article "US Latinas seek answers in Islam" with great distress. I am seeing here a failure of critical thinking.

The young woman quoted said that Latinas got "respect" when they dressed in Islamic hijab, whereas they never received that before from Latino men.

Isn't it possible that they would get the same kind of respect if they dressed a little more conservatively in Western clothing? That is always an option.

I also noted that a number of these conversions were being urged by Muslim "boyfriends." This sounds like recruitment to me.

I fear that these young women will find, if they go to live in a Muslim country, that "respect" evaporates at the front door and certainly does not extend to the courts.

I would suggest that these young women seek out and talk to other women who have made this kind of mistake and lived to regret it later.

Think before you make this leap of faith.
Laina Farhat-Holzman
Aptos, Calif.

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