Movement to officialize English not dead

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Apr 16 13:45:36 UTC 2005

>>From the New Hampshire, Union-Leader, April 16, 2005

Commentary:  Maintaining our common culture through our common language

                      By MAURO E. MUJICA
                      Guest Commentary

                      BEGINNING at the decisive moment in the 2004
Presidential election, the nation cast its political eye forward to 2008.
As is always the case, the nation will fix its gaze on the citizens of New
Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation status confers great power to shape
national debate. One such debate will concern the national response to
Americas unprecedented levels of immigration. New Hampshires international
border may not be the one making national news. However, the Granite
States legacy as the place where ideas are created, debated, and crafted
into policy make it the natural location to begin the discussion of what
it means to be an American.

                      Our common language English must play a vital role
in this debate.  From Portsmouth to Plymouth, Keene to Concord, most
Granite Staters can trace their ancestors to a foreign land, and therefore
a foreign language. No one expects English upon arrival, but we would not
have become one people if our forbearers had not proudly spoken accented
English. Official English laws rest on a principle gleaned from this
experience. The expectation that immigrants learn English is a fundamental
American value, and our nations laws should reflect our values.

                      In 1995, New Hampshire sensibly became one of the 27
states that now recognize English as the official language of state
government. Unfortunately, there is still no national policy, leaving
federal agencies to make ad-hoc decisions that almost never promote
assimilation.  In federal offices around the country, newcomers can
receive basic services like Social Security and Medicaid in everything
from Spanish to Tagalog. But immigrants who have been in the United States
for 15 years can still receive services in their native tongue. The result
is an entitlement program that makes not even the gentlest demands of
those who receive the assistance.  This is absolutely unparalleled in
American governance: when the able-bodied receive services like
unemployment or welfare payments, we insist they undertake good-faith
efforts to become self-sufficient.

                      Congress is considering legislation that would enact
the balanced judgment that language assistance, while occasionally
necessary, is not an entitlement.  Federal agencies would retain the
flexibility to offer translation services when necessary, such as to
protect public health and to fulfill the needs of the justice system. A
similar bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in 1996,
and the matter deserves the attention of both the House and Senate in

                      Although opposition to such a measure is
occasionally shrill, the most reasonable objection is that immigrants
already learn English at acceptable levels, and that an emphasis on
English is an unnecessary push. While this view is laudably optimistic, it
collides with the known facts. The Pew Hispanic Center recently found
among Mexican migrants who have lived in the United States for six to ten
years, 45 percent speak English either a little or not at all. Among those
with more than 15 years in the United States, the figure is an identical
45 percent. The implication is clear: if immigrants dont begin the
transition to English upon arrival and many do not the transition never

                      If we are to successfully remain a nation of
immigrants, the transition to learning English and becoming an American is
vital.  While English language acquisition is in immigrants economic
interest, it also a matter of great public interest, because it goes to
the core of what type of nation we want to be.  We should never be an
English-only society, but neither should we become an English-optional
society. By enacting a policy that reflects this value, our nation will
rightly place its accent on helping todays newcomers become the next great
generation of Americans.

                      Mauro E. Mujica is a naturalized citizen and the
Chairman of the Board of U.S. English

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