Numerous polls show that the majority of both native-born Americans and immigrants to the country support English as the official language of the Unites States, and 30 states — likely to be 31 if Oklahoma’s governor signs recently approved legislation — have already declared English the language of their governments. But at the federal level this grassroots feeling has not gotten through.
“It’s difficult to find another issue with such an overwhelming consensus,” said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish. “There is an increasing number of non-English-speaking immigrants coming into the country and it’s an issue the Congress is not going to be able to avoid facing.”
ProEnglish is a non-profit organization recognized as a leader in the field of language law. ProEnglish conducts research and promotes educating citizens, businesses and elected leaders about the rational for an official language and the financial and personal harm resulting from the U.S.’s being one of the few nations lacking a declared language of government.
Legislation to make English the official language of the U.S. has been approved by the Senate twice in the past, but failed to clear Congress because the bill was attached to controversial immigration legislation. Vocal opponents to federal legislation comes from Chamber of Commerce groups and organizations favoring massive influxes of immigrants both legal and illegal.
Ignorance about the issue creates the most difficult challenges ProEnglish faces in its efforts to get legislation passed. Polls consistently show that about 84% of Americans erroneously believe English is already the official language of the United States and are surprised to learn that this is not the case. When that fallacy is pointed out, 85% believe that it should be and also believe that making English the official language of government prohibits the use of other languages.
“It’s a false concept that this rule is exclusive,” McAlpin said. “The law would apply only when the government acts officially, but nothing in this prohibits a business, a hospital, or the government from using bilingual staff where it provides a benefit or there is a compelling public interest. That’s just good business practice.”
After 30-plus years and billions of dollars spent on failed bilingual education, ProEnglish favors English immersion classes to teach the language. By more than a two-to-one margin, immigrants themselves say the U.S. should expect newcomers to the country to learn English. There is a nine-to-one margin among Hispanic immigrants, the fastest growing immigrant group today, who believe that learning English is essential to succeed in the U.S.
The system of multilingualism institutionalizes differences, dividing and isolating those groups unable to communicate and placing obstacles in the way of education, employment and participation in the American way of life. Making certain that immigrants and residents quickly learn to communicate in a common language unifies the people of the U.S. and eliminates what McAlpin labels the linguistic apartheid that devalues U.S. citizenship.
ProEnglish believes the right to use other languages must be respected and encourages the study of foreign languages as academic disciplines, but an executive order issued by former President Bill Clinton mandating multi-lingual services be provided by any business or entity receiving federal funds has been used as a weapon of coercion, threatening to withhold federal funds from schools, businesses and states.
“It’s outrageous,” McAlpin said. “That is absolutely illegitimate and contrary to 35 years of district and appellate court case law.”
The burdensome regulation imposes the use of costly translator services, multilingual ballots and additional business staffers. If all candidates for U.S. citizenship were required to demonstrate English proficiency making them capable of understanding the basics of the U.S. system of government and elections, the tax savings would total billions that could be used for other essential needs.
Federal law requires immigrants to demonstrate a certain level of English proficiency to become a citizen, but, McAlpin said the regulation has been “watered down” over time and there is no standard. Different districts across the country utilize different standards for the citizenship tests, in some cases farming out the process to private entities that have simplified the process.
ProEnglish promotes the requirement that Naturalization ceremonies, including the Oath of Citizenship, should be conducted in English. “Most immigrants, to their credit, take becoming a citizen seriously and it’s demeaning to them to make the process so simplified,” McAlpin said. “The test should be more significant and it should be standardized and improved nationwide.”
Additional information about ProEnglish is available on their web site at www.proenglish.org, or by calling (703) 816-8821.