Colorado Republican Congressmen Mike Coffman (CD-6) and Doug Lamborn (CD-5) have joined a hundred of their colleagues this year in sponsoring a bill to make English the official language of the United States.
English language bills are among those introduced practically every session of Congress without any expectation of making it to a vote by the full House or Senate. This year, however, the bill might get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith (TX-21) told WOAI that he would “support efforts to make English the official language and may consider bringing up the issue in the House Judiciary Committee down the road.”
Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King introduced HR 997, the English Language Unity Act of 2011, which would make English the official language of the United States. The legislation would require official functions of the United States be conducted in English. It would create English language requirements and workplace policies in the public sector, and any exceptions to this standard “should be limited to extraordinary circumstances, such as asylum.”
HR 997 has a total of 109 co-sponsors, including nine from the Texas delegation. Texas Republicans Rep. Joe Barton (TX-6), Rep. Louis Gohmert (TX-1), Rep. Ralph Hall (TX-4), Rep. Samuel Johnson (TX-3), Rep. Kenny Marchant (TX-24), Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10), Rep. Randy Neugebauer (TX-19), Rep. Ted Poe (TX-2), and presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-14) have all signed on as co-sponsors.
Donna De La Cruz, press secretary for Community Change and spokewoman for Reform Immigration for America, told the Texas Independent that the organizations opposed the legislation and that they believe it is stalled in the House and Senate. “It’s really not going anywhere,” said De La Cruz.
Among the reasons De La Cruz cited for their opposition to the bill was that it is “inconsistent” with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. De La Cruz said that there are public safety issues, and cited a case where Filipino nurses were suing for discrimination after being fired for speaking in their native Tagalog on the job. “It was easier for them to talk about their patients in their native language,” said De La Cruz.
Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations at ProEnglish, told the Texas Independent that the example of the Filipino nurses was “not a very relevant” argument. “That wouldn’t have an effect on those nurses,” said Bibby. “This bill would only effect federal government or federal agencies.” Bibby says that the text of the bill includes seven exceptions.
The text of the bill includes the exceptions of the teaching of languages; requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; actions, documents, or policies necessary for national security, international relations, trade, tourism, or commerce; actions or documents that protect the public health and safety; actions or documents that facilitate the activities of the Bureau of the Census in compiling any census of population; actions that protect the rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants; or using terms of art or phrases from languages other than English.
Having English the official language of government, De La Cruz says would make it more difficult for people to do day to day things such as get drivers licenses or register to vote. “It’s a smokescreen,” said De La Cruz. “It’s another way to make it difficult for people who try to come to this country and work to become citizens. That is what America was founded on.”
“Behind all of this is a very racist and xenophobic view.” said De La Cruz. “While it is currently targeted largely at the Latino community, this is not a new issue. There was a push for English as the national language in the late 1800s when there was a large push of German immigrants, and with every wave of immigrants there is always these types of proposed laws.”
“We consider that ridiculous,” said Bibby of the claim that the legislation is motivated by racism and xenophobia. “Latinos and Hispanics are not the only immigrant populations in the United States, but Spanish is the most commonly accommodated language in the United States. No other languages should be accommodated over others for political reasons.”
As the American Independent reported, recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), King made a surprise appearance on the ProEnglish sponsored “Failure of Multiculturalism” panel to endorse HR 997, and said that his bill would “establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization.”
The panel included British writer and activist Peter Brimelow, the founder and editor of VDARE.com, a website the Southern Poverty Law Center has named as being run by a “White Nationalist” hate group and SPLC has documented controversial statements made over the years by Brimelow and his VDARE writers. On the panel King shook Brimelow’s hand, saying, “I’ve read your books; I just hadn’t met you.” But after the speech, King told various reporters he was unaware of the writer’s work.
Scot Kersgaard contributed to this article.