Sup­port grows to make English of­fi­cial; mea­sure called ‘good first step’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Eric Pfeif­fer

The­p­ush­tomakeEnglishthen­ation’s of­fi­cial lan­guage is build­ing mo­men­tum, with a con­gres­sional bill on the hori­zon and seven states push­ing leg­is­la­tion to make English the of­fi­cial lan­guage or to strengthen laws al­ready in place.

“There’s been such strong sup­port,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Repub­li­can. “And it’s gain­ing mo­men­tum.”

Mr. King next month is ex­pected to rein­tro­duce the English Lan­guage Unity Act, which seeks to make English the na­tion’s of­fi­cial lan­guage. How­ever, he said that timetable had been post­poned un­til House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could com­plete the Democrats’ “first 100 hours” agenda. “Nancy Pelosi has us un­der mar­tial law,” he said.

“The states have been won­der­ful on this,” said Jim Boulet Jr., ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of English First, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports mak­ing English the of­fi­cial lan­guage. “The prob­lem isn’t get­ting bills passed, it’s get­ting them en­forced.” Mr. Boulet de­scribed Mr. King’s bill as “a good first step.”

In the last ses­sion of Congress, Mr. King drafted sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion and counted 160 co-spon­sors, plac­ing the bill in the top 2 per- cent of co-spon­sored leg­is­la­tion. Al­though con­trol of Congress has switched hands, the bill’s ad­vo­cates say the is­sue has broad, bi­par­ti­san sup­port. “We don’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect them to jump in and say they sup­port this unan­i­mously,” said Rob Toonkel, spokesman for U.S. English Inc., a group that sup­ports mak­ing English the of­fi­cial lan­guage.

The leg­is­la­tion would not bar private busi­nesses or in­di­vid­u­als from us­ing mul­tilin­gual ma­te­rial, but it does seek to pre­vent fed­eral funds from be­ing spent on such ef­forts.

Mr. King has long been an ad­vo­cate of English-lan­guage laws. In 2002, as a state sen­a­tor, Mr. King au­thored a suc­cess­ful bill mak­ing English the of­fi­cial lan­guage in Iowa. The bill was signed by thenGov. Tom Vil­sack, who is now a can­di­date for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2008.

Mr. King on Jan. 10 filed a law­suit in state dis­trict court against Gov. Chet Culver and Sec­re­tary of State Michael Mauro, both Democrats, for vi­o­lat­ing Iowa’s English-lan­guage law. The law­suit ac­cuses Mr. Culver, who served as sec­re­tary of state be­fore run­ning for gov­er­nor, and Mr. Mauro of il­le­gally plac­ing voter-reg­is­tra­tion forms and ab­sen­tee-bal­lot re­quest forms on Iowa’s sec­re­tary of state Web site in for­eign lan­guages.

Mean­while, English-lan­guage laws have been in­tro­duced by state leg­is­la­tors in Ge­or­gia, Kansas, Ken­tucky, Mis­sis­sippi, Mis­souri, New Jer­sey and Oklahoma. Sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion is ex­pected to be in­tro­duced in other states be­fore the end of the month. Culpeper County in Vir­ginia and Cabar­rus County in North Carolina have in­tro­duced their own English-lan­guage pro­pos­als as well.

Last month, vot­ers in Ari­zona passed leg­is­la­tion mak­ing English the state’s of­fi­cial lan­guage by a mar­gin of more than 2-to-1. “The peo­ple have been well-ahead of the politi­cians on this one for a long time,” Mr. Boulet said.

Al­though im­mi­gra­tion leg­is­la­tion re­mains stalled in the halls of Capi­tol Hill, some sup­port­ers of mak­ing English the of­fi­cial lan­guage say that am­bi­gu­ity has had un­fore­seen ben­e­fits. “[Im­mi­gra­tion and Nat­u­ral­iza­tion Ser­vice] had a record num­ber of peo­ple ap­ply­ing for cit­i­zen­ship last year,” Mr. Toonkel said.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity’s Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices said there was an 18 per­cent in­crease in re­quests for cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tions dur­ing the first half of last year com­pared with 2005. Sim­i­lar surges have fol­lowed a tight­en­ing of il­le­gal-alien laws passed in states such as Ari­zona and Cal­i­for­nia. Af­ter Cal­i­for­nia passed its Propo­si­tion 187 in 1996, a to­tal of 378,014 per­sons were nat­u­ral­ized. That was more than dou­ble the pre­vi­ous year’s fig­ure, when 136,727 per­sons were nat­u­ral­ized.

“This is the strong­est push for of­fi­cial English leg­is­la­tion that I have seen in the last 15 years,” said U.S. English Chair­man Mauro E. Mu­jica. “I hope the jump-start that this is­sue has re­ceived will pay div­i­dends in the near fu­ture by mak­ing English the of­fi­cial lan­guage and knock­ing down the lin­guis­tic bar­ri­ers that di­vide our so­ci­ety.”

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