GOP pushes hard for 'official English'

House bill sponsors fear 'we're losing our common bond'

Republicans yesterday made a case for designating English the nation’s official language, arguing that it is the common bond of a nation with diverse cultural roots.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and sponsor of an “official English” bill, argued that it is the “language of opportunity” in this country and that people need to know it if they want to get ahead.

“I believe all functions of government should be performed in English,” he said during a House hearing, adding that his bill “does not touch bilingual
education in any way.”

Rep. Bill Emerson said, “The federal government has sanctioned multilingualism, which sends a very destructive message of lingualistic isolation and separatism.”

Mr. Emerson, Missouri Republican, is the House sponsor of Mr. Shelby’s measure. He said the bill has 200 co-sponsors.

Yesterday’s hearing of the Economic and Educational Opportunities subcommittee on early childhood, youth and families also heard from sponsors of other measures addressing the issue of official English.

“The purveyors of political correctness have been successful in instituting big government programs to actively dissuade new immigrants from learning English,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican.

Mr. King has introduced a bill that would require all federal publications to be printed in English, abolish the federal Office of Bilingual Education and use the savings for deficit reduction, and force ballots to be printed in English and citizenship ceremonies to be held in English.

English is the “glue that has held our people together,” said Rep. Toby Roth, Wisconsin Republican. “We’re losing our common bond. For one in seven Americans, English is a foreign language.” His bill, with 85 House co-sponsors, is like Mr. King’s but would end state as well as federal bilingual-education programs.

Rep. Sonny Bono, California Republican, voiced his support for federal “official English” legislation. “Enough is enough with this bleeding-heart stuff,” he said.

Democrats who testified at the hearing criticized the measures, as did Education Secretary Richard Riley, who made his views known in a statement distributed at the session.

Mr. Riley complained that these measures are “more about politics than improving education” and would be harmful to children who speak other languages. “It would be sheer folly to deny millions of schoolchildren the opportunity to learn English at a time when the need is greatest,” he said.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, added, “Most of our population – 97 percent as of the last census – speaks English. What I am at a loss to understand is why we require legislation to enforce what is already true.”

Rep. Ed Pastor, Arizona Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said, “I cannot help but feel that we are not looking at a real issue here but perhaps one that has been artificially created to divide our country and promote a short-term political gain.”

Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, said efforts to make English the official language “seem to go hand in hand with immigrant-bashing.”

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