A Pennsylvania state lawmaker who wants to make English the “official language” of the state silenced his Latina colleague on Monday when she attempted to speak out against his legislation, saying she was taking too long to make her point.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican chairman of the House State Government Committee, had convened a hearing on the “English-only” bill, which he co-sponsors. Under that bill, all state and local government records would have to be in English, something Metcalfe says would save money and “help immigrants to assimilate.”
Rep. Leslie Acosta — who is herself an immigrant and the state’s only Latina legislator — disagrees with Metcalfe’s justification for the bill. However, while she attempted to lay out her argument before asking a question at Monday’s hearing, Metcalfe interrupted her, and turned her microphone off.
WATCH State Representative Darryl Metcalfe cut the microphone on Pennsylvania's first Latino Representative Leslie Acosta on questioning a bill that would make English the official language of Pennsylvania.
Posted by Raging Chicken Press on Monday, September 21, 2015
The hearing on Pennsylvania’s “English-only” bill was framed as a question and answer session, where lawmakers ask witnesses about different aspects of the bill. These are similar to Congressional hearings, where lawmakers have an allotted time to make statements about what they believe, and then end with a question. On Monday, Acosta was attempting to question witness Robert Vandervoot, a white nationalist testifying in support of the bill.
Though it’s not in the video, Acosta told ThinkProgress that she began her questioning by speaking Spanish, which local blog Raging Chicken Press reported “did little to please … Daryl Metcalfe.”
She then talked about how she too believed learning English was necessary for immigrants to succeed, but expressed concerns about the Constitutionality of requiring all government records to be in one language. In 1998, Arizona’s English-only law was ruled unconstitutional because it “unfairly interfered with the access to government by those who did not speak the language.”
In the middle of that point, Metcalfe interrupted. “You’re out of order,” he said. “I asked for a question.” Acosta then said she was “making a point,” and Metcalfe said “You’re not making points.” Acosta responded that she technically had two minutes to ask a question, to which Metcalfe retorted, “You don’t have two minutes.” Acosta said she had “the right to make my statement,” and Metcalfe said he would come back to her at the end “if we have time for you to finish your comment,” before turning her microphone off.
Metcalfe did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.
Acosta, however, told ThinkProgress that she was appalled not only by how she was treated at the hearing, but by the fact that a white nationalist was allowed to speak before state government officials.
“This is overt racism in the 21st century. We’ve got to call it like it is,” she said. “It has no place in the House of Representatives. I’m on this and I’m not letting go.”
Though America does not have an official language, Pennsylvania is vying to be the 32nd state to have their official state language be English. Vandervoot, who heads the advocacy organization ProEnglish, told ThinkProgress earlier this month that “one common language” is necessary for “a common bond of unity.”
“[M]ulticulturalism is actually what’s divisive and taking away from our unity,” he said.
Others, however, decry the push as inherently racist. “English-only is incredibly divisive because it sends the message that the culture of language minorities is inferior and illegal,” reads a statement from the immigrant advocacy group League of United Latin American Citizens. “With a dramatic increase in hate crimes and right wing terrorist attacks in the United States, the last thing we need is a frivolous bill to fuel the fires of racism.”
Acosta seemed to agree, telling ThinkProgress that it would be harmful to send the message that Hispanic culture is somehow inferior. She herself could not speak English when she moved to America at two years old, she said — but learned the language and eventually became the first Latina in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.
“[Immigrants] are embedded in the American fabric, and what unites us are common, core values,” she said. “But I’m not going to separate myself from who I am, from my culture, from my ancestry.”
English-only laws are generally pushed by groups and individuals who take strong conservative stances on illegal immigration in general. Indeed, Metcalfe is the founder of a coalition of state legislators that work to eliminate “all economic attractions and incentives … for illegal aliens” and “secur[e] our borders against unlawful invasion.”
Metcalfe and the English-only bill’s co-sponsors assert that the measure would save government money currently being used to translate documents, though they do not assert how much is being spent, or how much would be saved.