Legislation introduced in the House yesterday would repeal laws that require bilingual education and ballots, putting teeth into a declaration that English is the official language of the United States government.
“We are a country of people from all corners of the globe, and we are one nation, one people because we’ve had the bond of the English language,” said Rep. Toby Roth, Wisconsin Republican, who introduced the bill. “With that bond we’ve avoided the problems of Quebec or Yugoslavia.”
He said language minorities have written him from all over the country, most often from California and New York, to say they disapprove of bilingual education because they want to be assimilated.
“It’s a deeply felt issue around America,” he said. “It’s politically incorrect to say this to the elite but not to the people of America.”
Hispanic groups have viewed previous attempts to make English the official language as a slap at them and have consistently thwarted such measures in Congress.
The new bill has 10 co-sponsors, including members of the House Republican leadership.
“I think Canada’s troubles show us the danger of allowing competing languages to develop,” said co-sponsor Richard K. Armey, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference. “Bilingual-education programs only make it more difficult for immigrants and their children to be assimilated.”
Mr. Roth’s bill is the “first offensive piece of legislation” on the issue because it strikes down state and federal laws, said English First legislative director Jim Boulet. “Persons who favor those things would have to go to court to invalidate the effects of this bill.”
“Bilingual education creates second-class citizens out of the children of today’s immigrants,” said P. George Tryfiates, executive director of English First. “Bilingual ballots invite all kinds of election fraud. And bilingual government cannot hope to fairly serve a nation in which over 100 languages are spoken.”
The federal endorsement of bilingual education dates to a 1967 pilot project aimed at reducing the number of Hispanic dropouts. Criticism of bilingual education mounted as programs were expanded and often focused on Spanish maintenance instead of English acquisition.
Bilingual ballots were first required in 1975 in jurisdictions with large numbers of speakers of a foreign language.
“Last election, people could vote in seven different languages in San Francisco,” Mr. Roth said.
The Roth bill is not the first to attempt to strengthen English in an increasingly multilingual nation.
Rep. Bill Emerson, Missouri Republican, has proposed legislation to make English the nation’s official language. A related bill would provide a tax credit to employers who offer English classes to employees who speak other languages.
The Emerson bill has the support of U.S. English, which, like English First, wants to make English the nation’s official language.
“We’ve not gotten involved in the Roth bill,” said Kyle Rogers, legislative associate of U.S. English. “The bill is far to the right of where we’re at.”
U.S. English and the Emerson legislation condone voter-assistance materials in languages other than English but oppose ballots in other languages. In proclaiming English the language of government, the group and bill exempt health-care-delivery services, 911 emergency aid and certain court proceedings, Mr. Rogers said.