official english legislation

Dennis Baron debaron at NTX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU
Fri Jun 1 15:53:00 UTC 2001

Bethany asks about the intent of the "English Language Unity Act." Far be it
from me to guess at the motivations of our legislators, but here's what I
think. The bill contains exceptions similar to those that have appeared in
the various bills introduced over the past few years under titles like "The
Language of Government Act."
does not apply to-- `(1) teaching of languages; `(2) requirements under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; `(3) actions, documents, or
policies necessary for national security, international relations, trade,
tourism, or commerce; `(4) actions or documents that protect the public
health and safety; `(5) actions or documents that facilitate the activities
of the Bureau of the Census in compiling any census of population; `(6)
actions that protect the rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants;
or -----

The main thrust of language of government bills recently has been to pull
the plug on bilingual education and to tighten language requirements for
citizenship. Curiously, this particular bill contains not simply a
requirement for naturalization ceremonies to be held in English, but also a
requirement that new citizens be able to read the Declaration of
Independence, the Constitution, and the laws of the US -- this is a fairly
harsh requirement, given that other federal legislation and policy suggests
the average adult citizen reads at an 8th grade level (whatever that
means!). It seems to me that this additional reading requirement -- if
reading and understanding HR 1984 is any indication -- is intended to or
will have the effect of excluding huge numbers of people from citizenship.


`Sec. 163. Uniform English language rule for naturalization
        `(a) UNIFORM LANGUAGE TESTING STANDARD- All citizens should be able
to read and understand generally the English language text of the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Laws of the United
States made in pursuance of the Constitution.
        `(b) CEREMONIES- All naturalization ceremonies shall be conducted in

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Dennis Baron, Head                       debaron at
Department of English                            217-333-2390
University of Illinois                          fax: 217-333-4321
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

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