Monday, February 08, 2016

English Ordinance Opponents Confuse Language and Ethnicity

January 24, 2013

By Suzanne Bibby

Language, ethnicity, and national origin are three distinct concepts that opponents of the official language movement in the United States have consistently misunderstood for the past three decades.  Last month in Carroll County, MD, I witnessed this confusion first hand.  I attended the public comment hearing to address Commissioner Haven Shoemaker’s proposed ordinance to make English the official language of county government.  If Carroll County votes to adopt this  ordinance next week on Jan. 24, it will become the third county in the state to do so in less than a year.

The December hearing drew over 100 local residents.  Those who chose to give a 3-minute public comment were evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the English measure.  Throughout the public comment period, I couldn’t help but notice a blanket theme among the opposition comments, a peculiar neglect of the topic at hand, language.  Instead, opponents focused on topics such as personal family lineage, national origin, and ethnicity.

This misunderstanding of the difference between language and ethnicity or national origin continues to dominate the opposition to official language laws despite the courts’ consistent rejection of its premise.  When Congress debated and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, language was never discussed or included in the meaning or definition of "national origin" discrimination, and rightfully so.  The law simply states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance (Section 601).”

The courts have held that national origin and language are not the same and cannot be treated as if they are, as they did in the case, Garcia v. Spun Steak (1993), where the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the employer (Spun Steak) maintaining its English-in-the-workplace policy.  As I stated in my brief comment in Carroll County, no court has ever held that official English laws violate the civil liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Both Congress and the courts understood that national origin, unlike language, is an immutable characteristic – meaning, it is incapable of changing.   It is self-evident that individuals can choose which languages they learn and speak, but they cannot choose or change their national origin.  As it is becoming the dominant trend in the U.S., an individual’s inability to speak English does not necessarily indicate that the person is an immigrant.

We know that over the past decade, English proficiency has become less common for high-school graduates in the United States.   A 2009 Lexington Institute report found that 59% of U.S. elementary school children who are not proficient in English (or, English is not their primary language) were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents.  In California today, one out of every four school students is an English Language Learner. Continuous mass immigration and the resulting increase in government-sponsored translation services have accelerated the decline of English in America over the past two decades.  These two factors are transforming the language assimilation issue away from an immigrant concern and into a native-born phenomenon.

The commissioners in Carroll County can, no doubt, feel confident in voting to approve the English ordinance next Thursday.  They can rest assured that if the opposition actually believed its own argument, that official language laws violate the 1964 Civil Rights law or the U.S. Constitution, a flood of lawsuits would follow from the likes of the ACLU.  But where are the lawsuits?  Thirty-one states, to date, have official language laws on the books and not one is being challenged.   

Rigged Vote in Puerto Rico Produces Artificial Majority for Statehood

On Election Day this year, for the very first time in its history, Puerto Ricans produced a majority vote in favor of becoming the 51st U.S. State.  The non-binding referendum was made up of two questions: 1) Do you want to change Puerto Rico’s current status with the United States?  and  2) Which new status do you prefer?

On the first question, 54% of voters indicated that they favored a change of status, while 46% voted for no change.  The result of the second question produced 61% of voters choosing statehood, 33% choosing “sovereign free association,” and 6% for total independence from the United States.

Although at first glance it appears that a clear majority, 61%, of Puerto Ricans favor statehood, the devil is in the details.   When you tally the number of voters who chose statehood and compare it to the total number of voters who chose something other than statehood—including independence, free association, or left the question blank altogether out of protest—what you find is that there is no clear majority in favor of statehood at all.  802,000 people voted for statehood, but 978,000 people voted for something other than statehood or not at all.  This means that of the 1.7 million voters who participated in the referendum, more people (175,000 more) opposed statehood than supported it.  When you account for the total number of voters, only 44.6% chose statehood.

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ProEnglish and Broad Coalition Urge U.S. Congress to Require English for Puerto Rican Statehood

November 1, 2012    

(Arlington, VA)—ProEnglish, the nation’s leading advocate of making English the official language of government in the U.S., sent a coalition letter to both the Senate and House Leadership this week urging them to include specific English language requirements in any legislation to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st State. Twenty-one signatories join ProEnglish on the letter, including the principles of several influential national grassroots organizations, former Congressmen, and Tea Party leaders.  Read the letter here.

The letter was delivered just one week ahead of the island’s November 6th referendum on statehood. Puerto Rican voters will decide whether they want to remain a commonwealth, become independent, renegotiate its current status with the U.S., or become the 51st U.S. State.

“The ultimate goal of ProEnglish and the allied groups represented on this coalition letter is to preserve the historic role of English as the unifying language of the United States,” said ProEnglish Executive Director Robert Vandervoort. “Although English and Spanish are dual official languages on the island, the de facto language of government and the schools is Spanish-only. The U.S. Congress must address the clear language discrepancy between the Puerto Rican government and the other 50 state governments.”

“We know from the enormous costs and frequent cultural conflicts that it imposes on countries like Canada and Belgium that official bilingualism would add to our budget deficit and be extremely divisive,” said Vandervoort. “Recent studies estimate that federal language translations for Puerto Rico would cost American taxpayers $26 billion a year.”

“Puerto Rican voters may very well reject statehood for the fourth time in their history next week, but in the event that they do not, we want to be sure that Congress understands that there is precedent for requiring territories to adopt English language policies. Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans want the U.S. government to unite under one official language – English.”


View the press release page here.

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