In a recent post titled Do Americans really think Congress should establish English as the national language? Red Alert posed several questions about the value of Congress establishing English as the United States’ official language. The questions were raised after a new Rasmussen poll revealed that support for “comprehensive immigration reform” increases among Republicans and decreases among Democrats if a provision is included to make English the official language.
Allow me to provide answers.
Official English does not mean “English-only.” That is an opposition phrase intended to falsely paint the issue as a tool to eradicate all foreign-language speaking in the U.S. Rather, establishing an official English law would mean that for the federal government to act in its official capacity (or with legal authority), it must communicate in English. It means that the language of record would be the English language and that no one has a right to demand taxpayer funded translation services, documents, websites, answering services, etc. in any other language.
It also means that the government would use the official language alone unless there is a compelling public interest not to. For instance, DHS printing fliers and running radio ads in various languages to inform the public how to prepare for a nuclear attack? Yes, that is a compelling public interest. Wanting to apply for food stamps with the USDA in Turkish or French? That’s an individual interest and would be disallowed under an official English law.
The legislation that my organization, ProEnglish, supports in Congress—Rep. Steve King’s English Language Unity Act (H.R. 997)—limits translations to seven explicit areas that pose a compelling public interest, such as public safety and the teaching and funding of foreign languages in schools.
Currently, the government operates under a de facto unofficial multilingual mandate known as President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13166. This executive order requires every federal agency and every recipient of any federal funds, such as hospitals and doctors offices, to provide translation services, interpreters, and documents in any foreign language requested. There is no federal money set aside to help entities provide these services. In 2002, OMB reported that the cost of government translations likely exceeded $2 billion a year, and that figure didn’t even take into account the implementation of EO 13166. Even worse, the federal government is now twice as large as it was in 2002. Canada spends $2.4 billion a year on translation services into just two languages. Over 300 languages are spoken in the U.S. and we have 10 times the population of Canada—you do the math.
Multilingual government, quite simply, does not encourage immigrants to learn English. On the surface, it may seem like the compassionate thing to do, but removing incentives to achieve English fluency only harms immigrants. Census data prove that those who speak English earn, on average, two to three times as much as those who don’t.
In fact, the significance of unifying behind one national language is so profound that studies have shown that whether or not an immigrant can speak English dictates whether or not they self-identify as an American. One study found that immigrants who can speak English are 22 times more likely to refer to themselves as Americans, rather than an Italian, or a Colombian, or a Russian.
Officially multilingual nations, such as Belgium and Canada, suffer from a multitude of cultural conflicts, including the government’s practice of reverse discrimination against those who don’t speak all official languages. In Canada, if you don’t speak English and French, forget about getting a job with the provincial government—even if you live outside of Quebec where no one speaks French!
In other words, if you support a low-tax, limited scope government with fewer onerous mandates, an official English law is consistent with your ideology. As libertarian author and icon Ayn Rand stated so directly in her 1971 work The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, “A country has to have only one official language, if men are to understand one another.”
So yes, there is a reason why close to two-thirds of the states have adopted official English laws—it’s because the American people really do want Congress to preserve and protect our common tongue, English, by codifying it into law.