Nevada: The detrimental effects of English-only laws

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Feb 26 21:31:28 UTC 2009

The detrimental effects of English-only laws
February 26, 2009 by Eva Rodriguez

Demoting importance of Spanish language undermines diversity

Immigrant integration is the order of the day. It is a topic that
makes some uncomfortable, others angry and many baffled by the
seriousness it inspires in some. Strong waves of immigration in recent
decades in the U.S. have raised the concern of the decay of the
apparent core American values.

The Bush Administration formed a sub-division within the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security called the Task Force on New
Americans, whose goal is to help legal immigrants, in order to become
fully Americanized, embrace American values that include the
embracement of English as the common language. Congress lawmakers also
introduced bill H.R. 6617 called Strengthening Communities through
Education and Integration Act,” which would ork under the Department
of Homeland Security.

Immigration is a contested topic on any given day in Washington D.C.,
but it is rarely spoken of candidly. The border wall, health care
policies to prohibit access and a myriad of other campaigns obscure
the real issue which is that of a broken immigration system and
policy. A favorite campaign is the English only provision that has
become rhetoric heavy and used by many who erroneously believe it will
make immigrants assimilate because they refuse to do so voluntarily.

There are three major arguments that are constantly mentioned in favor
of this policy. First, it will increase economic mobility for
immigrants; second, it will unify immigrants to mainstream America by
embracing our core values; and lastly, it will force those immigrants
to assimilate who tend to be reluctant in learning the language.

We live in a global economic society where English and Spanish are
constantly ranked second and fourth in the most spoken as well as the
most desirable languages, with 508 million people speaking English and
392 million speaking Spanish.

Despite fervent claims to the contrary, census data asserts that most
Latino/a immigrants learn and speak English albeit the wellness varies
while only 2.5 percent speak Spanish but not English.

Contrary to the claims of bridging gaps, this policy cannot fix the
wage gap existent in our economic system. Many studies show that wage
gaps are attributed to a multitude of different factors. Economist
James P. Smith of Rand Corp. has stated that children and
grandchildren of Latino/a immigrants come close to earning only 78
percent of the salaries of mainstream Americans.

Learning English is not a desired goal for those who don’t speak the
language, as it will not bridge the wage gap just like it hasn’t for
millions who do. Numbers prove that a majority of immigrants are not
reluctant to learn the language or integrate themselves into the work
force. The problem lies in how this policy attempts to implement a
social mandate unnecessary for the economic well being of immigrants.
This is not to imply that monolingual citizens have a better
opportunity in the economic arena; however it should be noted that
immigrants’ economic hardships do not begin nor end with language

The nationalization of English as the official language will not
create immediate social awareness of inequality in order to create
equality. If this was the case then any of the 29 states that have
declared English the government’s official language would have
experienced this assumed social equality.

The concern is primarily focused on the prevalence of core American
values such as the integrity of family and citizenship. Census data
shows that 62 percent of Latino/a immigrants over the age of 15 are
married compared to 52 percent of American-born citizens. Only 6
percent of Latino/a adults are divorced, compared with 10 percent of
white and 12 percent of African-Americans. The real issue, it appears,
is the lack of correlation between enforcing English and abolishing
bilingualism from the public sphere.

Assimilation is another buzzword that keeps floating about as though
it should be the most desired maxim for all entering the U.S. Why is
linguistic assimilation desired? The continuing influx of Spanish
speaking immigrants into the U.S. keeps Latino/a culture alive for a
longer period of time than most other cultures of large immigrant
groups in the past. This is not a social evil that requires a fix. The
debate is not about the pros and cons of undocumented immigration or
immigration has ruined the country; instead it is about the lack of
merits of having such divisive legislation implemented.

If inclusion is the desired goal then the debate should focus on how
many languages should be official since we are a nation of immigrants,
and not about English being the only official language. We only need
to go as far as Canada as an example, where French and English share
the title, or to Guatemala where Spanish and Mayan dialects share the
spotlight. If Latinos are the largest minority group and Spanish is
the second most spoken language then why is it so absurd to have a
dialogue about the inclusion of both?

Educational systems across the world embrace bilingualism as one of
the core values, yet we are embracing shadowing other languages that
are not only of economic, but also cultural importance in our country.
It is necessary to do away with this vague and inaccurate notion that
English Only will solve systematic problems in our immigration
policies or that it will work as a saving grace for inequality. The
more we continue to gloss over the real issues the more we stand to
distance ourselves from solving the real social problems of our time
rooted on misconceptions as well as systematic and historical
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