May 20, 2006

do you speak american?

the senate has decided to add to its immigration bill an amendment that declares english "to be the national language of the United States". this may sound innocent enough, but the consequences would be far-reaching. from an editorial in today's new york times:

If the amendment merely stated the achingly obvious, it might be nothing to get upset about. Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, offered an amendment asserting, nonbindingly, that English is the language that unites us all. That one was passed, too. But Mr. Inhofe and his allies weren't looking to make a statement about our shared heritage.

They made another point — one that is exclusionary, potentially discriminatory and embarrassingly hostile to the rest of the world.

"Unless otherwise authorized or provided by law," the Inhofe amendment says, "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." It goes on to insist that new citizens be tested for knowledge of English and of certain pillars of American civics, like the Federalist Papers and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

People who struggle with the language don't need to be told how important English fluency is in America. If Mr. Inhofe wanted to lavish federal money on English-language classes, now overwhelmed with immigrants on waiting lists, such a step would do more to advance the cause of English and assimilation than any xenophobic amendment. [...]

This country has always come to regret official actions that exclude and alienate large populations of newcomers. It has never stood prouder than when it greeted them with openness and confidence, in the spirit behind the motto "E pluribus unum." Sorry — make that "Out of many, one."

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