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Official English

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Coming Together: English as the Official Language

Did you know that English, the language spoken by ninety-two percent of the citizens of the United States, is in fact not the official language of this country? Actually, there is no official language of the United States. Most of you are probably asking yourselves, "Why should I care if the U.S. has an official language or not?" The truth is there are many reasons, both social and economic, why making English our official language would be beneficial. Consider this, the United States Government spends an astonishing 3.3 billion taxpayer dollars each year to provide government services to non English speaking immigrants in their respective languages. Not having an official language also promotes disunity among citizens by creating racial and ethnic divisions based upon group's languages of choice. Having an official language would benefit all of this country's citizens if we work together to develop effective legislation and take the necessary steps to implement it.

There are many arguments for why Americans would benefit from English as its official language, but due to length constraints lets just analyze two of the best founded reasons. The first argument we will address for having an official language is mainly economic. Having one language for government documents and services would free up funds currently being used to produce documents, provide education, and countless other services in multiple languages. The second argument is more of a humanitarian one. Not having English as our official language causes several socioeconomic hardships for non English speaking citizens. This is because there is the lack of job opportunities and pay for immigrants who do not speak English. It is clearly harder to earn an equal wage as one's peers when a person cannot communicate with ninety-five percent or more of the citizens in his or her country. While these arguments provide a compelling case for the country to convert to an official language, at the same time several of the arguments for keeping the U.S. multilingual have strong grounding and deserve consideration in the legislation process. Let's address both sides of the arguments and we can work together to come up with a solution to this ever growing economic and social crisis. However, before analyzing these arguments for and against adopting Official English, it might be helpful to first look at some background information and history on the issue and its past legislation.

Modern English Only legislation first appeared in 1981 as the constitutional English Language Amendment. This amendment, if approved by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate and ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures, would have banned uses of languages other than English by federal, state, and local governments. The measure however, has never come to a Congressional vote, even in committee. Despite no federal legislation for an official language, since 1981, twenty-three states have adopted various forms of Official English legislation, in addition to four that had already done so. This leaves twenty-three states that currently do not have some form of Official English legislation on the books.

The Official English movement is headed by two privately funded organizations, U.S. English and English First. The largest, U.S. English was started in 1983 by the late senator S.I. Hayawaka, who was the first legislator in recent history to propose making English the U.S. official language. He did this before congress in the form of the aforementioned English Language Amendment. The amendment was quickly shot down and senator Hayawaka stepped down from congress in 1983 to found U.S. English. The organization started small but today has over 600,000 members.

About a decade ago, English Only advocates changed their approach to getting English as the official language passed on a federal level. Recognizing the long odds against getting a constitutional amendment ratified, they began to promote a statutory form of Official English. Such a bill would apply to the federal government alone and would require only a simple majority vote in Congress, as well as the President's signature, to become law. Several versions of so-called "Language of Government" legislation have appeared since that time. One of these bills, H.R. 123 was voted on in 1996. The bill passed in the House of Representatives, but did not pass in the Senate. So, the measure failed to become law (US English).

A similar bill to H. R. 123 is currently under review in the 109th congress. According to US English if the bill is enacted it will amend the US Code in the following ways.

* English would be designated the official language of the U.S. government - the only language that federal employees and officials, including members of Congress, would be permitted to use for most government business.

* The English Only mandate would extend to federal "actions, documents, policies, publications, income tax forms, informational materials," records, proceedings, letters to citizens - basically, to any form of written communication on behalf of the U.S. government.

* Exceptions to the ban on federal use of other languages would be permitted for purposes that include national security, international trade and diplomacy, public health and safety, criminal proceedings, language teaching, certain handicapped programs, and the preservation of Native American languages.

* An "entitlement" would be created, ensuring the "right" of every person to communicate with the federal government in English.

* Naturalization ceremonies would be specifically restricted to English only.

* Bilingual provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantee minority-language voting materials in certain jurisdictions, would be repealed.

Now that the background, details, and legislation attempts on the Official English movement have been established, it is now appropriate to move on to our analysis of the reasons and counter arguments for having English as the U.S. official language.

It's hard to disagree with the fact that government facilitation of citizens in languages other than English is costing this country and its taxpayers more and more money each year. As mentioned above, this year alone the U.S. will spend an estimated 3.3 Billion dollars in supporting multilingualism among its citizens. This estimate will do nothing but rise in the future as more and more immigrants come to this country and do not feel the need to assimilate from their native tongue to English. Most of the funding for these accommodations



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