English-only bills violate our freedoms

Freedom New Mexico

Among the various bills offered in Washington and Texas are new efforts to force every U.S. resident to speak English.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has pledged to file an English-only bill in Congress. Worse, similar bills already have been filed in the Texas Legislature.

One Texas state representative has filed legislation to make English the official state language and require that all official business be conducted in that language. Another Texas state representative has gone further, offering legislation that would require driving tests to be given only in English.

As we have noted before, it’s doubtful that such bills would pass constitutional muster. The First Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech. …” We assume that includes laws restricting the language that people choose to speak.

English-only laws certainly would violate other laws, such as the Voting Rights Act, which requires that ballots be available in other languages when a significant part of the population speaks that language. Citizenship is not based on language, and government entities must not place barriers, language or otherwise, that would make it more difficult for people to cast their ballots.

The nativists who support such legislation are short-sighted, and forget this country’s honorable history of accepting troubled refugees, such as the Mariel boatlift from Cuba in 1980, thousands of refugees from Indochina in the 1970s and various defectors from Soviet bloc countries throughout the Cold War. It’s unreasonable and cruel to accept these people, only to impose our own oppressive rules on their behavior.

Language restrictions on driver’s test make little sense, especially in a border state such as Texas and New Mexico. Many foreign nationals spend significant amounts of time in this state, whether on business or on vacation. Many of them do drive on our streets during their extended stays. With the North American Free Trade Agreement similar pacts calling for greater access to shipments from other countries, we should encourage people to show proficiency and knowledge of our traffic laws; language restrictions will only discourage people from working to get those licenses.

The ability to conduct business in other languages should be evident to all state lawmakers. More than $150 billion in goods are traded between Texas and Mexico each year alone. Greater investment and trade coming from Japan, China and other countries should inspire officials to expand rather than restrict the languages that are accepted for legal documents.

What’s more, there’s more than enough information to convince anyone that language is not a major problem for this country. While many immigrants come to this country unable to speak English fluently, more than 80 percent of their children are fluent in the language. English is the primary language of some 94 percent of their grandchildren.

However, such bills send a clear message to people in other countries: We don’t want you here. As America continues to fall behind other countries academically and is losing trade and commerce to other countries, we just might be convincing some of the brightest minds to stay home, and let their talents move their respective countries ahead of ours.

We trust that majorities in the Texas Legislature and Congress recognize the error in such proposals.