McCain should pledge to Make English Official Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jul 18 17:57:51 UTC 2008

McCain should pledge to Make English Official Language
by K.C. McAlpin
Posted 07/17/2008 ET
Updated 07/17/2008 ET

At a recent Pennsylvania town hall meeting, a woman pointedly asked
Republican presidential candidate John McCain: "Why as an American do
I have to push a button to speak English?" The crowd roared with
applause. "I think you struck a nerve," McCain replied, adding,
"English must be learned by everybody." That common-sense sentiment is
shared by a huge majority of Americans. A March 2006 Zogby poll found
84% of likely voters agreeing that English must be the official
language for government operations. Ironically, that same poll
indicated that most Americans mistakenly believe English already is
our official tongue. By the way, 53 countries --located mostly in
Africa, Asia and the Caribbean -- have made English an official

McCain would be well advised to take a position supporting official
English in contrast to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama,
who has voted against such legislation in the past and is on record
opposing it in this campaign. McCain could take a page from colleagues
like Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.), who introduced the S.I. Hayakawa
Official English Act, named after the late senator from California, by
saying: "Since our nation's founding, countless millions of immigrants
from every corner of the globe have forged proud new identities as
Americans and succeeded in their new land by learning English and
adopting our civic values and institutions. But today, in the midst of
the largest wave of immigration in our history, there are troubling
signs we are letting this priceless gift of unity, our common
language, slip away."

Among those "troubling signs" are data from the U.S. Census that found
that the number of "linguistically isolated" households (Those where
English is not spoken) soared by 65% between 1990 and 2000 to a
whopping 11.9 million households. And a 2007 Migration Policy
Institute study that found that an astounding 57% of all limited
English-proficient adolescents in the U.S. are native born and 30% are
third generation. But despite the public's well-founded concern about
the need to protect our nation's historic unity in the English
language, government policy is aggressively tilting in the opposite

For example, federal agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission routinely distort the definition of "national origin" to
charge the Salvation Army and other employers with illegal
discrimination for requiring employees to speak English at work. And
state officials deliberately flaunt their own official-English laws to
pursue a dangerous policy of letting people who do not speak English
take driver's license exams in their native language.

One of the worst is Alabama, where voters adopted a constitutional
amendment making English the state's official language by an
overwhelming 9-to-1 margin in 1990. The amendment required state
officials to "take all steps necessary to insure that the role of
English as the common language of the state of Alabama is preserved
and enhanced." But Alabama state officials give the driver's license
tests in 13 languages, including Arabic, Russian, Thai, Farsi and
Vietnamese and claim they are obeying the law.

Executive Order 13166 signed by President Clinton and enforced by
President Bush requires federal agencies and federal fund recipients
to provide translations and interpreters for non-English speakers in
their native language -- at taxpayer expense. An Iranian immigrant in
Oklahoma recently used the Executive Order as grounds for a complaint
asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the state
because it failed to give driver's license exams in the Iranian
national language, Farsi.

Passage of Sen. Inhofe's official English legislation would end this
mess. Support for English as the official language of government is
one of the few policy issues on which support crosses all partisan,
ideological, and racial lines. It is a ready-made issue not just for
McCain, but for anyone running for Congress or state legislative seats
who wants to implement the wishes of the vast majority of the American

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