Rep. Steve King (R-IA), most recently in the headlines after attacking President Obama’s young daughters for going on vacation, introduced the English Language Unity Act in the House earlier this month, along with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) in the Senate. As King notes on his website, the bill would require “all official functions of the United States to be conducted in English.” Federal and state governments print thousands of documents every year, many of which are translated into other languages besides English.
One major impact King’s bill could have is to stop the decades-long practice of printing non-English ballots in areas where there’s a significant non-English language group. Indeed, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 currently requires local jurisdictions with a substantial number of non-English speakers to allow them to vote in other languages.
King’s bill currently enjoys 39 co-sponsors in the House—37 Republicans and two conservative Democrats—though that number will likely increase over time. Inhofe’s Senate bill has five co-sponsors, all Republicans.
English-only bills not only discriminate against immigrants and minorities; they’re also wholly unnecessary. Conservatives fret that immigrants today aren’t learning English like immigrants of yesteryear, but are instead confining themselves to permanent non-English enclaves. That idea is, to put it mildly, nonsense. Though first-generation immigrants often have limited-English proficiency, their children quickly adopt English, just as it’s always been in the proverbial American melting pot. By the second generation, more than 80 percent speak English exclusively or very well, and the figure jumps to nearly everyone in the third generation. In fact, as Professor Tomas Jimenez at Stanford University notes, “immigrants today are learning English faster than the large waves of immigrants who came to the United States during the turn of the last century.”
Republicans have spent the months following last November’s election in a tailspin trying to figure out how to win over minority voters. Their autopsy, released this month, singled out minority outreach as an area where the Party has consistently fell short and planned to improve going forward. However, the GOP put forth no new policies, only a promise to be more sensitive in their communication. That pledge was quickly violated by Rep. Don Young and RNC Committeeman Dave Agema, among others.