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Push for 'official' English heats up

 
 
Reply Mon 9 Oct, 2006 09:17 am
Push for 'official' English heats up
Updated 10/9/2006 7:43 AM ET
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY

Rising concern over immigration has prompted a wave of cities and states this year to try to make English the official language.
A ballot measure is pending in Arizona. Related bills have passed houses of representatives in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Michigan; the state senates have not taken them up. At least five cities and towns have approved ordinances; eight are considering them. The U.S. Senate included a provision in a pending immigration bill. Gubernatorial candidates in Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Arizona and Idaho have debated the idea.

"This is the most action we've seen in about 10 years," says Rob Toonkel of U.S. English, a group promoting English as the official language. "People are split on immigration. But on matters of assimilation, they agree immigrants should be on the road to learning English." If immigrants don't learn the language soon after arrival, he says, many never will.

"We make it easy for people to come (to the USA) and never speak English," says Louis Barletta, mayor of Hazleton, Pa., which passed an English-only ordinance last month. "We think we're helping them, but we're not."

Barletta says the measures are not anti-immigrant. Critics disagree. "They're a way of putting immigrants in their place," says Ruben Rumbaut, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine. He co-wrote a study that found third-generation Americans of any ethnicity are rarely fluent in their ancestors' native tongue. What's threatened isn't English, he says, but Spanish.

Proposals vary but generally say government business must be conducted in English, with exceptions for emergency services. Federal law requires that election information be available in other languages.

"People know the key to getting ahead in this country is learning English," says John TrasviƱa, interim president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which opposes the official-English measures. He says they deprive people of the right to information about things such as prenatal classes and patient billing records in a language they understand.

Such proposals have been rejected in Kennewick, Wash.; Arcadia, Wis.; Avon Park, Fla.; and Clarksville, Tenn.

Some measures, several of which also set penalties for people who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants, have been challenged in court. Last month, an English referendum sought by Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota, N.J., died after the Bergen County clerk said Bogota had no authority to set an official language and the state Supreme Court declined to intervene.

Twenty-seven states already have laws making English their official language. According to the Census Bureau, eight in 10 U.S. residents speak only English.
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 Oct, 2006 12:25 pm
I have to admit I didn't realize just how xenophobic we really are until this whole immigration thing cropped up. It can be argued that the 'English only' ordinances violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is, and has never been, an 'official' language mandated in the USA. (Nor should there be.)
0 Replies
 
Baldimo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 07:29 am
Making English the national language would bring a common language to all Americans. It would save money in the short run. It would also let all peoples coming here know that if they want to prosper that learning the national language is the right thing to do.

Private businesses can do as they please when it comes to languages in which they do business in. Of course in the home people can speak with they wish but govt busniess should be done in English.

When you move to another country, does your new country bend over backwards to speak English or do you have to learn the language to get by?
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 07:31 am
Merry Andrew wrote:
I have to admit I didn't realize just how xenophobic we really are until this whole immigration thing cropped up. It can be argued that the 'English only' ordinances violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is, and has never been, an 'official' language mandated in the USA. (Nor should there be.)

Only by an idiot. Clearly, the intention of the 1st amendment was to prohibit the government from arresting people for stating opinions.
0 Replies
 
Baldimo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 07:41 am
Brandon9000 wrote:
Merry Andrew wrote:
I have to admit I didn't realize just how xenophobic we really are until this whole immigration thing cropped up. It can be argued that the 'English only' ordinances violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is, and has never been, an 'official' language mandated in the USA. (Nor should there be.)

Only by an idiot. Clearly, the intention of the 1st amendment was to prohibit the government from arresting people for stating opinions.


I'm waiting for the racist card to be played. It shouldn't be long now.
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woiyo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 08:33 am
What racist card? There is no debate here.

This is America. We speak English. If you want to speak Spanish, go ahead, but then expect no help from me. I speak English and ONLY English.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 08:53 am
Merry Andrew wrote:
I have to admit I didn't realize just how xenophobic we really are until this whole immigration thing cropped up.

Why is it xenophobic to expect that immigrants get fluent in the language of the country they're immigrating to? It only seems like common sense to me.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 09:07 am
woiyo wrote:
What racist card? There is no debate here.

This is America. We speak English. If you want to speak Spanish, go ahead, but then expect no help from me. I speak English and ONLY English.


That is not true. The American citizens in my house all speak Spanish. We want our kids to be bilingual (and all of them except for the one who doesn't speak at all yet are).

For the record, I am not even an immigrant. Some of my family has been here for over 300 years... and the latest immigrants came 4 generations ago.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 09:13 am
I think this is stupid as a political issue. There has never been a problem of immigrants learning English beyond the first generation. Immigrants now want to learn English (although for an older working person, this can sometimes be difficult).

Immigrants all want their kids to learn English and nearly all of them do just fine.

It is hard for me to understand why people shouldn't be bilinugal. Having proficiency in a language other than English doesn't take anything away from ones chances to succeed.
0 Replies
 
woiyo
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 09:23 am
ebrown_p wrote:
woiyo wrote:
What racist card? There is no debate here.

This is America. We speak English. If you want to speak Spanish, go ahead, but then expect no help from me. I speak English and ONLY English.


That is not true. The American citizens in my house all speak Spanish. We want our kids to be bilingual (and all of them except for the one who doesn't speak at all yet are).

For the record, I am not even an immigrant. Some of my family has been here for over 300 years... and the latest immigrants came 4 generations ago.


That is your CHOICE.

Not mine.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 09:24 am
ebrown_p wrote:
It is hard for me to understand why people shouldn't be bilinugal. Having proficiency in a language other than English doesn't take anything away from ones chances to succeed.

"Official English" ordinances typically say that official government communications have to happen in English, with exceptions for 911 calls and the like.That dosesn't make it hard for anyone to be bilingual. It merely makes it hard for people to be monolingual in their old country's language. So I don't see what bilingualism has to do with your complaint against "official English" laws -- unless you use "bilingualism" as a euphemism for "foreign monolingualism".
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 09:57 am
Thomas wrote:
"Official English" ordinances typically say that official government communications have to happen in English, with exceptions for 911 calls and the like.That dosesn't make it hard for anyone to be bilingual. It merely makes it hard for people to be monolingual in their old country's language.

That's true, and if access to government services could be conditioned on speaking English, the government could deny people their rights based solely on that condition. But there's nothing in US law that says that the government's protections can be limited to that class of persons who speak English, just as there's nothing that allows the government to confine its bounty to members of any other distinct group (absent some compelling state interest).

Look at it this way: suppose the government instituted an "Able-Bodied Americans Only Law," which said that government benefits would be bestowed only on those Americans who were not physically handicapped. Sponsors of the legislation, in defending the law, say that, historically, Americans have been overwhelmingly able-bodied, and that passing such a law would encourage people to become able-bodied. Would that law survive constitutional scrutiny? And, if not, why would an English-Only Law be any different?
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 10:19 am
Thomas wrote:
ebrown_p wrote:
It is hard for me to understand why people shouldn't be bilinugal. Having proficiency in a language other than English doesn't take anything away from ones chances to succeed.

"Official English" ordinances typically say that official government communications have to happen in English, with exceptions for 911 calls and the like.That dosesn't make it hard for anyone to be bilingual. It merely makes it hard for people to be monolingual in their old country's language. So I don't see what bilingualism has to do with your complaint against "official English" laws -- unless you use "bilingualism" as a euphemism for "foreign monolingualism".


The problem comes when "Official English" laws contradict the rights of individuals or local communities.

Let's take bilingual schools for example. Schools are generally under local control (a Conservative ideal I think). Each community has a fair amount of flexibility in how its schools should meet the needs of its children.

Should a federal or state law prohibit the tax-paying American citizens in its community from choosing to implement a bilingual program? Why shouldn't members of a local community be the ones to decide what is best for their students?

It seems to me that you could say making this an individual decision without government interference is a conservative position.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 10:28 am
Joe
One thing that would help immigrants would be to expand funding for day and evening classes teaching English as a second language. Government funding for such classes has been substantially decreased.

Can you imagine the benefit if such classes could be made available in all immigrant communities. Can you imagine how successful they could be if properly funded?

When I worked for one of the largest homeowner associations in California, we had a significant immigrant Asian population, primarily Chinese. We arranged for meeting room space at no charge, found Chinese teachers (both Mandarin and Cantonese) from the community, publicized the classes and their progress and pride of learning, etc. The classes were very popular and well attended. It was a great benefit to the immigrants and our community. We had no outside funding for this project. It just made good sense. We even sponsored Tai Chi classes where Asians and non-Asians participated. Good for bringing the community together and helping to learn each other's languages.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 05:08 pm
Thomas wrote:
Merry Andrew wrote:
I have to admit I didn't realize just how xenophobic we really are until this whole immigration thing cropped up.

Why is it xenophobic to expect that immigrants get fluent in the language of the country they're immigrating to? It only seems like common sense to me.


It does to me also, Thomas. That's not the point of BBB's post, though. I am objecting to legislation which mandates a particular language as the 'official' one. As a practical matter, it is already mandatory for anyone who wants to get ahead in the land to learn English as a US immigrant. This is a self-correcting problem. I am opposed to needless laws, especially when they're couched in terms which forbid officials to converse with an immigrant in any language other than English, even when both are familiar with the other language.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Oct, 2006 05:21 pm
Actually, Joe from Chicago has stated my position far better than I could have said it myself. The fact that English has become the 'common language' in the USA (not the 'official language') is a historical accident. At the time the US Constuitution was written, there were a number of communities where English was not commonly spoken, where schools and instruments of local government conducted their business in German, Dutch or French. The Founding Fathers didn't see this as a problem, nor did they imagine that, say, the Pennsylvania Amish or Mennonites should be treated any differently from the Anglophones, who constituted a statistical majority.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Oct, 2006 12:45 am
joefromchicago wrote:
Thomas wrote:
"Official English" ordinances typically say that official government communications have to happen in English, with exceptions for 911 calls and the like.That dosesn't make it hard for anyone to be bilingual. It merely makes it hard for people to be monolingual in their old country's language.

That's true, and if access to government services could be conditioned on speaking English, the government could deny people their rights based solely on that condition.


Even if there is a denial of rights, it doesn't rise to the same level as your "able-bodied-only" law would. I remember a waiver I had to sign as a condition for getting my Green Card. It said I couldn't receive any welfare payments during my first X years in the US, where X was either 5 or 10 -- I don't remember which. Obviously, then, the US government can deny me services based on my nationality. Are you saying this was illegal of the INS to do? Or is this one of those discrimination cases where the "equal protection component" of the Fifh Amendment's due process clause yields a different outcome than the equal protection clause of the 14th would have? If not, I would argue that if the government can discriminate based on nationality, it can certainly discriminate based on language.

joefromchicago wrote:
Look at it this way: suppose the government instituted an "Able-Bodied Americans Only Law," which said that government benefits would be bestowed only on those Americans who were not physically handicapped. Sponsors of the legislation, in defending the law, say that, historically, Americans have been overwhelmingly able-bodied, and that passing such a law would encourage people to become able-bodied. Would that law survive constitutional scrutiny? And, if not, why would an English-Only Law be any different?

Are you saying language-based categorization are a quasi suspect class in a similar way as race and gender? I doubt it, based on what little I know about American law. In reading the recent gay marriage cases before State Supreme courts, I have picked up on some of the relevant tests. As far as I can make out, foreign language speakers seem to fail all the tests by which courts usually determine which classes are suspect or quasi-suspect.

The first test I've seen of whether something is a quasi-suspect-class is whether there is a long-standing history of repression. I don't think there is such a history for Americans who can't speak English. (Indeed one might argue that one of them is currently your president.) That's a stark contrast to he case of gays and some groups of handicapped people.

The second test I've seen courts apply in the gay marriage cases is whether the behavior the state discriminates against can be changed. Not speaking English can be changed, unlike most physical handicaps and homosexuality. In the short term, people can have a relative translate for them, or they can hire a translator. In the long term, they can learn English. So, not speaking English is not immutable.

The third test I noticed courts apply in gay marriage cases is whether the people discriminated against lack political power. Immigrants do have political power, as the demonstrations this spring have shown. Going further back in history, immigrants have proven their power by getting repealed many of the "English only" laws that states had enacted in the 1920s. They did get a little help from the Supreme Court -- what was the first Amendment case about teaching foreign languages again? -- but for the most part these laws got repealed through the political process.

Against this background, I think you probably couldn't persuade the Supreme Court to categorize non-speakers of English as a quasi-suspect class. You probably couldn't persuade them that rational basis review is not the appropriate level of scrutiny. And considering how leniently rational basis review usually plays out, I also doubt the court would find the currently proposed "English only" bills so insane they wouldn't withstand it.

But as the standard disclaimer goes, I am not a lawyer. In addition to that, those cases arose under state constitutions. The tests applied by the courts may not have come from the US Supreme Court. So if you know precedents of the US Supreme Courts that disagree with me, I'll be happy to be persuaded otherwise.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Oct, 2006 03:37 am
ebrown_p wrote:
Should a federal or state law prohibit the tax-paying American citizens in its community from choosing to implement a bilingual program? Why shouldn't members of a local community be the ones to decide what is best for their students?

No, federal or state law ought not prohibit tax-paying American citizens from choosing to implement a bilingual program. But to my knowledge, no currently proposed federal bill would prohibit it. Maybe you can point me to one? I can't comment on state law, which I haven't followed much. Can you point me to the worst "Official English" law currently enacted? Perhaps it helps if we have a specific text to work with.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Oct, 2006 05:20 am
The current "English Only" laws are stupid.

They are symbolic gestures that have little effect other than make immigrants (including legal English-speaking ones) upset and make nativists feel like something is being done. But in real life, I don't see how stating the English is the "official" language changes anything. Perhaps it will save a couple dollars in copying fees for some official document (which generally people don't read anyway).

The only way these laws will have any effect is if they take away rights (i.e. make sure that people who want to use another language can't).

Local communities being stopped from supporting a bilingual program is one example.

Another example that get's English Only people's boxers in a knot is that they have to push the "1" button (for English) whene calling a business. Of course businesses are private entities and they offer this service because they have customers who appreciate it. Most business will tell you that offering additional services (i.e. another Language) to their customers is a good business sense especially when the only inconvenience is that some other customers may have to push 1 button.

I assume you also agree that the government stepping in to eliminate this service would be a bad thing.

This means that all of the noise from the English Only people that they have to push an extra button is just whining.

The current "English Only" laws are useliess... frankly stupid. It is the hypothetical future laws (that would have a real effect) that would take away rights.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 11 Oct, 2006 05:44 am
ebrown_p wrote:
Another example that get's English Only people's boxers in a knot is that they have to push the "1" button (for English) whene calling a business. Of course businesses are private entities and they offer this service because they have customers who appreciate it. Most business will tell you that offering additional services (i.e. another Language) to their customers is a good business sense especially when the only inconvenience is that some other customers may have to push 1 button.

I assume you also agree that the government stepping in to eliminate this service would be a bad thing.

Indeed I agree with that. Now, do you agree that "Official English" laws do nothing to step in to eliminate these services, or even to inhibit them? "Official English" laws apply to government business, not private business.

ebrown_p wrote:
The current "English Only" laws are useliess... frankly stupid. It is the hypothetical future laws (that would have a real effect) that would take away rights.

I'll deal with those laws when legislatures pass them, and when the US president can no longer throw me in jail for unknown reasons, with no chance to challenge him in court. One has to set priorities in life.
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