By: Vanessa Puig
On May 18, the Senate voted and approved two amendments of the already controversial Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Amendment 4073 declares English as the “common and unifying” national language of the U.S, while the second amendment, SA 4064 states that the government and its officials have no obligation to provide any services in a language other than English.
Here’s where and why the controversy begins. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, English–the country’s de facto national language–is spoken by more than 215 million Americans at home. Yet, almost 47 million citizens speak a language other than English in their households, the most predominant being Spanish, Chinese and French.
Groups against the amendments see them as anti-immigration and discriminatory, particularly towards Hispanics. They point out that Americans who speak other languages provide a boost to the U.S. economy. A study by the University of Georgia in 2003 found that Hispanics’ buying power will increase 357 percent from 1990-2008
Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center that conducted the study, said, “The only way the Hispanic buying power could diverge from these projections would be a clamp down on immigration.” Enforcing English-only policies could appear antagonistic to many immigrants and citizens who struggle with the language, but are working hard to make a living in the U.S.
Supporters of the amendments, however, argue that if immigrants wish to reap the benefits this nation has to offer, it is their obligation to learn the language this country was built upon. Furthermore, they state that establishing a national language would lift a huge financial burden from the government. English, Inc., the nation’s oldest and largest citizens’ action group, states the costs of having no official language are immense, such as:
- Translating official U.S. documents to accommodate several languages puts quite a dent in the government’s pocket
- Written translations for just food stamps alone cost the government $1.86 million annually. Plus an additional $21 million is spent for oral translations, a total cost of $22.86 million annually
- California, which has the largest population of residents limited in English proficiency, spends $2.2 million a year to provide language services in its Department of Motor Vehicles, including translating driver’s tests into 30 different languages. Street signs, however, are all in English
- Employed immigrants not proficient in English are more likely to struggle to make a living in the U.S.
- In 1999, immigrants who spoke English very well earned an average $40,741; more than double the $16,345 that non-English-speaking immigrants were paid
The fate of the amendments and Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act is now in the hands of the House of Representatives. Their decision is not likely to end this controversy, although it could mandate the language which the government will use to communicate with its citizens and require future citizens to learn. Write to your state representative and let them know your opinion? Visit www.house.gov/writerep.
Examples of translations
$22.86 million paid each year for food stamp
$2.2 million paid each year by California’s Dept. of