U.S. Senate proposes to designate English as 'national language'
After an emotional debate touching on what it means to be an American, the Senate approved dueling amendments on Thursday to designate English the "national language" and also the "common, unifying language" of the United States. Both designations, though presented as competing measures, were added to a sweeping immigration bill fraught with national symbolism.
The Senate action, which must still be reconciled with a house-passed bill before becoming law, handed at least a partial victory to conservative senators and promoters of the English-only political movement. The national language designation comes as close as politically possible to achieving along-sought goal of many Americans of making English the official language of the country. It would free government from providing translations of official communications unless specifically required by law.
Many immigrants in Florida are wary of the national language designation for fear it will lead to discrimination against foreign-language speakers. Others believe it could encourage assimilation into American culture. "It's logical that English should be the national language," said Marta Pardo, a Colombian who heads the West Palm Beach-based Latin American Cultural Center. "Unfortunately, many people arrive thinking they're just here for work, and they don't integrate themselves. They learn the ways of this country through hard knocks. But maybe if we had a language law, we'd have better results helping people assimilate."
Others saw the amendment as a gimmick meant to appease conservatives.
Consider me appeased!
"There are extremists in Congress who want to make it real difficult for 12 million immigrants to get legal status," said Carlos Echeverría, a consultant with the Guatemalan American Association Inc., in Miami. "Making English a national language is their way of zeroing in on immigration reform."
The Senate bill would give illegal immigrants a chance to become legal residents and eventually citizens, but only if they pay fines of $2,000 and learn English.
The national language amendment sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., which passed by a vote of 63 to 34, says governments would not be required to use foreign languages in official communications unless specifically mandated by law. Bilingual ballots currently required under federal law would still be provided. In other ways -- such as signs, documents and public-service announcements -- governments would be allowed but not required to provide translations.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called it a "racist amendment'' that would "cut the heart out of public health and public safety.''
That's because he's a dumbass.
Most Democrats and some Republicans backed the alternative amendment sponsored by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., that calls English the "common and unifying language" but would make no change in policy. That amendment also passed, by a vote of 58 to 39.
If the Senate passes the immigration bill as expected next week, both designations will be sent to a conference with House members to be sorted out in a final compromise bill.
The mixed signals on language reflect the debate on the immigration bill, which combines stiff border enforcement with a foreign guest-worker program and a path to legal status for an estimated 12 million undocumented people.
"English should be the national language. I have nothing against it,"said Pastor Ivalier Duvra of Mount Horeb Evangelical Church in Fort Lauderdale, who arrived from Haiti 19 years ago. "When I came here it was my priority to learn English, and I believe that if you come here one of your jobs is to learn the people's language. But I hope they can pass this law without putting up barriers and telling people it's illegal to speak foreign languages in government buildings. What makes this one of the most beautiful countries in the world is the fact that we're a mixed culture where people speak different languages."
My personal feeling is that people can speak their native languages whenever and wherever they want. But they should be able to speak English in order to communicate with the population at large.