The Salvation Army or the Hispanic Caucus?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2007 lawsuit against the Salvation Army’s requirement that its employees must speak English has once again split Congress between those who believe immigrants should adapt to American ways and those who don’t. Just before Congress left for its Thanksgiving break, a vote to rein in the EEOC triggered a revolt by the House of Representatives’ Hispanic Caucus.

Senator Lamar Alexander — during committee consideration of the EEOC’s appropriation — added a provision that would deny the EEOC any funds to continue its lawsuit against the Salvation Army’s English-only policy.  Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) then offered a non-binding motion on the House floor to instruct the House conferees on the Commerce-Justice-State (CJS) Appropriation (H.R. 3093) to support the Alexander language and on November 8th, the House voted 218 to 186 in favor of the Frelinghuysen motion. (Full disclosure: English First strongly supports the Alexander amendment.) 

In 2004, the Salvation Army asked Dolores Escobor of the Dominican Republic and Maria del Carmen Perdomo of El Salvador to learn English and gave them a year to comply. They did not do so and were dismissed in 2005.

Salvation Army officials could have just let these women continue merrily along in their little linguistic ghetto. Instead, they tried to encourage these women to better themselves by learning English.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against the Salvation Army’s policy in March of 2007.

The EEOC is actually enforcing rules which have been consistently rejected in federal courts.  Even the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, hardly a wellspring of conservative thought, ruled against the EEOC’s language policy in 1993 (Garcia v. Spun Steak).

The EEOC’s lawsuit also seemed like pure harassment, given that the Salvation Army had defeated one lawsuit against its English-only policy in Cosme v. The Salvation Army (284 F.Supp.2d 229 (D. Mass. 2003).

Yet the EEOC continues to seek ways to enforce its peculiar interpretation of civil rights law upon the nation’s employers.  Many of these employers opt to do whatever the EEOC demands, rather than fight out the matter in court.

The Democrats hold just 233 of the 435 seats in Congress.  This means that the Republican can prevail on any vote if they remain united and just 16 Democrats defect.  Potential defectors are not hard to find.

Of the 233 Democrats in the 110th Congress, reported Reid Wilson in Real Clear Politics (“House of Cards,” July 16th), 61 were elected in 2006 from districts carried by President Bush in 2004; 47 from districts Bush carried twice.  These Democrats are unlikely to ask Pelosi to show her face in their districts during their reelection campaigns next year.

The Frelinghuysen motion provoked 36 Democrats to join with 182 Republicans on the side of the Salvation Army.  Most annoying to the Hispanic Caucus were the 14 Democrats who switched their votes since the House defeated a similar amendment on July 26th, 202-212.

Hispanic Caucus members called the success of the Frelinghuysen motion “offensive” and “a breaking point.”

The next day (November 9th), the Hispanic Caucus demonstrated the power of their 21 Members to the Democratic leadership by voting “no” as a group against the rule for considering a tax bill and then switching their votes to “yes” at the last minute.

While that rules vote was still in doubt, Congressional Quarterly reported an off-camera screaming match took place on the House floor.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer confronted an equally irate Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joe Baca (D-California).

Perhaps because of this show of force by the Hispanic Caucus, a planned November 14th House-Senate conference on the CJS appropriation did not take place.

Baca told Congressional Quarterly that Speaker Pelosi had assured him the conference committee will not meet, nor will the House take up a conference report, until an agreement is reached to modify or drop the Alexander amendment: “There ain’t going to be a bill,” Baca boasted.

There are two things you can do to help the Salvation Army and Senator Alexander win this fight. 

First, contact your two Senators and your Congressman and ask them to insist the final CJS appropriation includes the Alexander EEOC amendment.

Second, when you see a red Salvation Army kettle during this Christmas season, drop in a few extra dollars so that the Salvation Army is not forced to choose between defending its good name in court and helping the needy.