Texas City puts `English only' policy into action

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Jan 4 16:25:10 UTC 2007

Texas city puts `English only' policy into action

By Stephanie Sandoval

The Dallas Morning News Posted on Sun, Dec. 10, 2006

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas - Since elected leaders declared English the city's
official language last month, Spanish no longer plays on the wall of
televisions overlooking the stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical
trainers at the Farmers Branch Community Recreation Center. In public
works, new trash bags being ordered for residents will have the holiday
schedule for trash pickup printed only in English. But instructions on how
to load the 50-gallon paper bags will be printed in both English and
Spanish, because it's a safety issue. Some temporary signs in Spanish have
been removed at the public library.  Fliers for park and recreation
activities and library events and other nonessential information will be
printed only in English. These are among the ways that Farmers Branch has
put into practice the language policy it adopted Nov. 13. City leaders
stress that it applies only to city government, not to schools, churches
or other organizations.  It does not mean that city employees will not be
allowed to speak in languages other than English.

And it doesn't mean that residents can't communicate in other languages,
said City Council member Tim O'Hare, the driving force behind the illegal
immigration crackdown and language-related initiatives. City Manager Linda
Groomer said the city will continue communicating with residents in
Spanish when it's a matter of public health or safety. Operations for
police, fire, ambulance, code enforcement, building inspections,
restaurant inspections and most other city departments have not been
affected by the new policy, Groomer said. At the recreation center, nine
televisions are pre-set to specific channels - two news channels, ESPN and
three major networks. The Spanish-language channel that used to be tuned
in is no longer an option. "There's no health and safety reason for us to
make the stations available in Spanish," Groomer said.

While resident Salvador Parada expected some changes after the city's
decision, he didn't realize it would affect his ability to watch
Spanish-language TV while working out. "Residents should have a say in
what stations are watched at the gym," he said. "After all, we are the
ones paying for the membership and not the City Council. I also feel that
it discriminates against those people that speak Spanish." But other
fitness center users said week that they welcomed the change. "I think
it's a great idea," Shirley Walker said as she walked on the fitness
center's indoor track. She lives in nearby Carrollton and works in Farmers
Branch. "If they want to have it in their homes, that's fine. But I don't
know why I should be exposed to it here, not in a public place."

Damien Bleu said he doesn't want his neighbors, who are immigrants, to
feel animosity over the city's decision to make English the official
language or the companion ordinance that will ban apartment owners from
renting to illegal immigrants and require all renters to show proof that
they are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally. But Bleu believes
the language decision has merit. "If they speak Spanish, they really
should be watching English TV anyway to get more accustomed to the
language," the Farmers Branch resident said. Residents can still check out
Spanish-language books or other reading and audio material at the city's
library. Comparing reading materials in a person's first language with the
same materials in another helps people learn that new language, library
director Danita Barber said.

"I just feel like the library's mission is somewhat different from the
rest of the departments in that we are an educational institution," she
said. "If the city wants our official language to be English, the library
is the perfect place to start that learning process." A third measure
adopted by the council authorizes the Police Department to apply to
participate in a federal program that will train officers to verify the
residency status of people in police custody and in some cases initiate
deportation proceedings. O'Hare said the city's measures have caused some
confusion. "You had people, before the ordinance was passed, so-called
leaders, over at the Catholic church telling people that if these measures
were passed, we were going to prohibit them from having Mass in Spanish,"
O'Hare said.  "Absolutely not. Nothing could be further from the truth."

He said that creating a policy to make English the official language has
two purposes: to ensure that people who speak only English will not be
prevented from getting a job with the city, and to end the publication of
non-health-and safety-related documents in Spanish. "One of the glues that
holds our society together and unifies us is a common language, and we are
losing that common language in a lot of areas," O'Hare said. "The people
that don't speak English are only hurting themselves, but never would I
consider ... or attempt to keep people from speaking any language they
chose to in their homes or in their churches or out in public." Meanwhile,
longtime resident Gerald P. Smith, 67, has filed a complaint with the
Dallas County district attorney's public integrity unit.

Smith says the council violated the Open Meetings Act by deliberating on
immigration issues behind closed doors and making a decision before
involving the public. "They had two public inputs, but it was basically
after they had already done their dirty deed," said Smith, a retired
police captain. "I'm not running for no office or anything else. I'm just
a disgruntled citizen." He declined to release a copy of his complaint but
said he was told the unit would investigate whether any criminal charges
were warranted.  Officials with the district attorney's office could not
be reached for comment. His complaint is separate from the lawsuit filed
on similar grounds earlier this week by the Bickel & Brewer Storefront on
behalf of Guillermo Ramos, a real estate agent and Farmers Branch

Smith supports the policy making English the official language but not the
two other measures. "That is something that's in our heritage," he said of
the language rule.  "We don't have to bend over backwards to accommodate
Hispanics or publish our language in Korean. That's the right thing to do.
All that other stuff, cities can't pass legislation to rid this country of
illegals.  That's a federal issue, and it needs to be handled by the



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