official english legislation

Baker, John JBaker at STRADLEY.COM
Mon Jun 4 02:33:37 UTC 2001

        In some countries that have national language legislation there have
been undesirable effects (or what we Americans consider undesirable effects)
in the form of police action to limit the use of foreign languages.  Such
police action would be unconstitutional here and in any case is not
contemplated by H.R. 1984, the proposed English Language Unity Act of 2001.

        Basically, H.R. 1984 would do the following:

                1.      Declare English to be the official language of the
United States (a purely symbolic declaration, I believe).

                2.      Limit government documents to English, with a number
of specified exceptions.

                3.      Increase the threshold for naturalization.

        Education is a state function, so H.R. 1984 probably would have no
effect on the practice of teaching in foreign languages.  H.R. 1984 would
reduce the number of documents that are published in both English and
Spanish (though some would come within one of the exceptions).  It would
also raise the standard for naturalization.  Current law requires new
citizens to demonstrate "an understanding of the English language, including
an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English
language:  Provided, That the requirements of this paragraph relating to
ability to read and write shall be met if the applicant can read or write
simple words and phrases to the end that a reasonable test of his literacy
shall be made and that no extraordinary or unreasonable condition shall be
imposed upon the applicant."  Exceptions are available for those who have
physical or developmental disabilities or mental impairments or who are over
50 and are long-time U.S. residents.  U.S. Code, title 8, section 1423.

        The proposed new standard - ability to read and understand generally
the constitution and laws of the U.S. - is considerably higher.  Not to put
too fine a point upon it, experience shows that college graduates starting
law school have no more than a skimpy ability to read and understand U.S.

John Baker

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Frank Abate [SMTP:abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET]
> Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2001 8:02 PM
> Subject:      Re: official english legislation
> At the risk of being controversial, given the replies to this thread so
> far,
> the following from my perspective:
> 1. Every court of law in the land uses English, as far as I know.  Does it
> not behoove all American citizens and prospective citizens to be
> proficient
> in English for this reason?
> 2. Every statute and administrative regulation in the land, as far as I
> know, is published in English, at least originally.  Doesn't the same as
> mentioned above apply?
> 3. In the US economy in general, given a predominantly English-speaking
> populace (excepting certain local areas, where, in fact, knowledge of the
> locally predominant language(s) is an advantage), is it not the case that
> confidence in the use of English is normally an advantage to the
> individual?
> If so, is it not best for American schools to emphasize that students be
> proficient in American English?  This does not at all mean that their
> linguistic and cultural roots need to be ignored or trammeled on, merely
> that to know American English proficiently is in their own individual best
> interests.
> There are many countries in which English has been declared an official
> language.  I would like others to consider reasons why this would
> necessarily be a bad thing in the US, where in fact English is the
> predominant language used by most citizens in their homes and daily lives,
> and when proficiency in English is advantageous for nearly all others?
> As a corollary, I would add that teaching elementary students in the US in
> a
> language other than English on a long-term basis seems to me a great
> disservice to those students.  It is OK as an accommodation for a brief
> period, but should only be treated as such, a temporary convenience.
> Proficiency in American English should be a primary goal for all students
> in
> this country.
> I cannot speak to the goals of all who propose legislation for English as
> an
> official language in the US, but I want to go on record saying that
> reasons
> to consider such a proposal are not necessarily borne of racism or
> xenophobia.
> My two cents,
> Frank Abate

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