Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Support Official English. Why Not GOP House Leadership?

 Texas Governor Rick Perry was speaking to voters in Waverly, Iowa before that state’s caucuses in December when a local man raised his hand. “I don`t know how the rest of the conservatives in the room feel, but personally, I`m fed up with seeing the directions on every single product on every single shelf of every single store written in foreign languages,” he announced. “And I`d like to say English should be the official language of government in this country.”[English as official US language: Perry says, `I can agree with that`, By Carrie Dann, December 30, 2012]


Rick Perry, who until this moment had no public record of ever voicing support for making English the official language of his state or the U.S—and had actually gave Texas conservatives reason to believe he opposed it—responded: “That is a statement. That`s not a question. And I can agree with that.” 


Polls continue to indicate the questioner’s sentiment is shared by a huge majority of Americans, close to 90%, including both immigrants and native-born. Thirty-one state legislatures—almost two-thirds of the states in America—have enacted English as their official language of government. The latest state to do so: Oklahoma, which voted by a margin of 76% on the November 2010 ballot to amend the state constitution to make English its official language.


In 2007, even the liberal-controlled U.S. Senate managed to overwhelmingly pass Senator Jim Inhofe’s official English amendment to George W. Bush’s amnesty bill by a vote of 64 to 33. That included 17 Democrats voting YEA.


In fact, the Official English issue is so popular that not one of the remaining GOP presidential candidates dared oppose it when the question came up during the January 23rd debate hosted by NBC News. This debate was the first held in Florida—a state with such a high Hispanic citizen population, that the entire state is required by federal law to provide bilingual ballots in Spanish for the 2012 election.


Yet, despite all of this, the U.S. Congress has yet to deliver a bill designating English as the official language of the federal government to any president’s desk to t. Congress after congress, Rep. Steve King’s bill, the English Language Unity Act, H.R. 997 (Sen. Inhofe carries the Senate counterpart, S. 503) continues to garner an average of 150 cosponsors or more, yet the House Leadership and Committee Chairmen continue to leave the bill untouched, but that may well change in 2012.


Until now. This week, TheHill.com ran a story,


Spurred by Republicans running for the White House, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill are moving closer to a vote that would make English the official language of the United States… 


 “It’s one of those 84 percent [approval] issues. I don’t know what the [Republican] leaders have up on the board that is more popular than official English,” King said in an interview with The Hill. [House GOP closer to vote on making English the official language, By Molly K. Hooper , January 31, 2012]


Of course, a public debate about official English would put President Obama in a tough spot. He voted against every possible official English amendment while he was in the Senate. He notoriously asserted during the 2008 presidential campaign: Instead of worrying about whether immigrants will learn English…you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.”


Politically, Official English is the perfect “wedge” issue. The House GOP Leadership, and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee which oversees King’s bill, would be foolish not to stress every unpopular policy position President Obama has ever taken during this election year.


Chairman Smith is quoted by TheHill.com: “I support efforts to make English the official language and may consider bringing up the issue in the House Judiciary Committee down the road.”


The committee abandoned plans to pursue the birthright citizenship bill this year. Holding an Official English hearing and a committee vote, at the very least, might be some compensation.


But the GOP House Leadership remains an obstacle. When questioned about bringing H.R. 997 to the floor this year, House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL) skirted around a direct answer in favor of an agenda no different from that of 2011, which produced few successes and a frustrated conservative constituency: “I think the lion’s share of our energy is going to be focused on jobs, the economy, energy and taxes.”


If passed and signed into law, H.R. 997 would do three things:



  1. Make English the official language of the United States,

  2. Establish a uniform language requirement for naturalization; and

  3. Set the framework for uniform testing of English language ability of candidates for naturalization. 

Contrary to its opponents` mis-information campaign, Official English does not mean “English-only.” Nor does it force anyone to speak English in their personal, daily lives. Official English simply means that for the government to act officially (or, legally), it must communicate in the English language. It means that the language of record is the English language, and that no one has a right to demand government services in any other language.


 


It will ensure that Americans are being honest with new immigrants by conveying the message that the surest path to economic, social, and educational prosperity in this country is to learn English. English is the undisputed language of success in the United States, and it has been found that the number of English Learner families living in poverty is about twice the national rate. It has also been estimated by the Washington, D.C.-based Lexington Institute that approximately $65 billion a year in missed wages can be attributed to workers’, both legal and illegal, lacking proper and sufficient English skills. [Improving Federal Adult English Learning Programs, by Don Sofer, Lexington Institute, September 3, 2009] Lacking fluency in English unfortunately traps non-English speakers in low-skilled, low-wage jobs and keeps them heavily reliant on taxpayer-funded government programs, particularly on costly multilingual services.


As Senator Inhofe (R-OK) has said, “The need for official English appears in our newspapers every day—injuries in the workplace, lawsuits over miscalculations in hospitals, people who are unable to support their families—all because they can’t speak English.”


Official English will also help to reinforce the melting-pot principle inherent in the United States` original national motto, until 1956, E pluribus Unum (“out of many one”) that helped make the U.S. the most successful multi-ethnic nation-state on Earth.


Also, despite opponents’ claims, Official English laws also do not dissuade foreign companies from doing business in those states. Foreign corporations don’t base multi-billion dollar investment decisions on whether state governments publish documents and websites in one common language. Instead, they are motivated by things like access to markets, tax rates, incentives, transportation infrastructure, and the availability of a skilled and (English) literate workforce. English is the international language of business and foreign executives who relocate to the U.S. usually speak fluent English before they get here.


Unfortunately, all too often Republicans in leadership positions in both the state legislatures and the U.S. Congress buy into this business rationalization. Of course, the truth is the opposition to Official English has nothing to do with deterring foreign investors, and everything to do with attracting illegal, low-wage, non-English speaking workers.


But there is a more profound reason to support Official English beyond fostering national unity and socioeconomic success. Pew Hispanic Center has found that among Hispanics living in what they called “Spanish dominant Households”—where little to no English is spoken—only 3 percent self-identify as “Americans.” 68 percent self-identify first or only with their native country. Among Hispanics in English-dominant households, 51 percent self identify first or only as Americans. [2002 National Survey of Latinos. Pew Hispanic Center. December, 2002.(PDF)]


In other words, those who speak English are 17 times more likely to self identify as “Americans” than those who don’t. Those who don’t speak English are 22 times more likely to identify primarily with their home country than with the United States.


Even in the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt understood the correlation between English and Americanization. He said: “We have room but for one language here and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible [i. e. the Melting Pot] turns our people out as Americans ….”


We will soon see if the Congressional Republicans share Roosevelt’s understanding.


Suzanne Bibby (email her) is Director of Government Relations for ProEnglish.