May 19, 2006

Senate votes for official English

The US Senate achieved a linguistic nadir today in approving 63-34 an amendment by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe to S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, that makes English the official language of the United States. The main part reads:

The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. If exceptions are made, that does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English. If any forms are issued by the Federal Government in a language other than English (or such forms are completed in a language other than English), the English language version of the form is the sole authority for all legal purposes. [source]

Unless and until passed by the House of Representatives, this is not the law, but as the House is also dominated by Republicans, it may well. The vote was not strictly partisan - 13 Democrats voted for it - but the opposition consisted entirely of Democrats with the exception of New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici. The roll call can be found here.

One justification for this is that eliminating services in languages other than English will save $1 to $2 billion (Inhofe speech). That's at most 0.7% of the cost thus far of the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, the dollar figures don't include the human cost. A second is that it will encourage immigrants to learn English, as if they needed encouragement. The myth that immigrants are unwilling to learn English was debunked so long ago you'd think that people would be embarassed to mention it. The third argument, believe it or not, is that making English official will have a unifying effect! That's rich. Depriving Spanish-speakers in the Southwest and Puerto Rico and American Indians and Eskimos of services in their own languages is obviously a great way to make them feel wanted.

Posted by Bill Poser at May 19, 2006 01:20 AM