by Suzanne Bibby
September 4, 2012
In comparing the latest editions of the two major political party platforms, the GOP continues to embrace the goal of official English, while the Democrats downplay the role of English in American life and limit their references to language assimilation to the context of "paths to citizenship" for illegal immigrants.
In the section entitled, "The Rule of Law: Legal Immigration," (p. 26), the 2012 Republican Party Platform includes a plank that supports establishing English as the official language of the United States:
We are grateful to the thousands of new immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces. Their patriotism should encourage us all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nation’s official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of—not only immigrant communities— but also our nation as a whole.
The GOP platform also endorses the English Immersion, or "English First," approach to teaching school students who are English Language Learners ("Consumer Choice in Education," p. 36). It also reasserts the importance of an English-literate workforce for a strong American economy ("A Twenty-First Century Workforce," p. 7).
The Republican Party has a history of recognizing the importance of preserving English as the common language in past platforms. The 1996 Presidential Election marked the first time the GOP included a plank professing support for "the official recognition of English as the nation's common language," though previous platforms had addressed the general belief that all immigrants should attain English proficiency while also retaining their native language (1976, 1980 platforms). In 2000, when George W. Bush was the GOP presidential nominee, the official English plank was removed from the party platform, and it was not restored until the end of President Bush's two terms in 2008.
The 2012 Democratic Platform differs greatly from the GOP platform and does not endorse official English. This is consistent with the 2008 version, although the 2012 text does vaguely allude to the expectation that immigrants should learn English ("Strengthening the American Community: Immigration," p. 46-47):
Democrats know there is broad consensus to repair that system and strengthen our economy, and that the country urgently needs comprehensive immigration reform that brings undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and requires them to get right with the law, learn English, and pay taxes in order to get on a path to earn citizenship [...] President Obama’s administration has streamlined the process of legal immigration for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, supporting family reunification as a priority, and has enhanced opportunities for English-language learning and immigrant integration.
Although President Obama has issued an Executive Order to grant legal status and work visas to approximately 1 million illegal immigrants, new and increased funding for English-as-a-Second-Language programs are unbeknownst to ProEnglish. There has been a marked increase in limited English ability in the United States over the past decade. According to the 2010 Census, 59 million U.S. residents report speaking English less than "very well or not at all."
The Democrats historically have gone into great detail in their platforms about their commitment to the availability of government-sponsored foreign-language translations in the context of increasing access to voting (bilingual ballots) and health care for non-English speakers, as well as support for bilingual education (that is, native language instruction in schools). In fact, in their 1988 and 1992 platforms, they even included a plank that disavowed the official English movement, stating "We support [...] the continued resistance to discriminatory English-only pressure groups."
In 1996, they reiterated their opposition to official English legislation: "We believe everyone in America should learn English so they can fully share in our daily life, but we strongly oppose divisive efforts like English-only legislation, designed to erect barriers between us and force people away from the culture and heritage of which they are rightly proud."
The Democrats' lack of discussion of language at all in the 2012 platform is a notable departure from past platforms' clear devotion to the issue. Only time will tell if this recent omission suggests a total surrender on an issue that upwards of 50% of Democrats support nationwide.
Which party's take on English reflects your position?
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