US: Officializing English gains support in local elections

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Nov 23 14:38:02 UTC 2006

English as official language gains support at local levels

Posted 11/16/2006 10:13 PM ET
By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

Voters and town boards in several states recently passed laws making
English the official language, garnering Hispanic support in one case for
what many say was a message to Washington. Arizona voters last week
approved Proposition 103, a constitutional amendment making English the
official language of the state. Passing similar laws were the city
councils of Taneytown, Md.; Farmers Branch, Texas, and the town board of
Pahrump, Nev. "The voters in Arizona are sick and tired of the federal
government doing nothing on immigration," said Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten
Sinema of Phoenix, in explaining why she thought the measure passed in
Arizona. She was an opponent of the proposition.

While English-only proposals in the U.S. Congress have gone nowhere, the
Arizona measure passed by a 3-to-1 ratio, with 48% of Hispanics supporting
it, according to an Associated Press exit poll. Hispanic support is a sign
that "the majority of Hispanics believe that the key to success in America
is to learn the language of the land, learn English," says Jose Esparza,
vice chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association. Lydia Guzman,
chairwoman of the Coalition for Latino Political Action in Phoenix,
opposed the bill. She said she is worried it will be misused by
anti-immigrant extremists.

Guzman was not surprised that nearly half of Hispanic voters supported the
measure. She says the Hispanic community includes people who have been
here for generations, who don't speak Spanish and haven't experienced the
"immigrant struggle." In Taneytown, where only 1.5% of the population is
Hispanic according to the 2000 census, Councilman Paul Chamberlain says
the official-English law will make "no practical change" because Taneytown
does not provide services in Spanish. "We will be helping immigrants learn
the English language and not segregate into different communities," he
says. Political scientist and pollster Fred Solop of Northern Arizona
University says Arizona voters, including Hispanics, have made clear that
the issue of illegal immigration is their number one concern.

"There were four immigration proposals on the ballot, if there were six,
they would have all passed," he says. Among the ballot initiatives that
accompanied the official-English proposition were three others that
targeted illegal immigrants. Arizona State Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa
calls official English "part of us doing our job to help (immigrants)
learn to communicate. "Government has an obligation to promote and enhance
English," he says, "to help people assimilate."

Sinema derides that sentiment as "so cute," pointing out that one of the
propositions that passed denies illegal immigrants state benefits,
including state-funded English classes. "To punish people by taking away
funding to learn English, and at the same time demand people learn
English, makes no sense at all," Sinema says. Esparza, who supported the
official-English ballot initiative, also sees "an irony" in the voters'
decision to deny state funding for English education. He said conflicting
measures passed "because the public, including Hispanics, is frustrated
that illegal immigration continues to be a problem and they want the
federal government to take action."


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