Alejandrina Cabrera is one of several candidates running for City Council in San Luis, Arizona. Like nearly all of her constituents, Cabrera is Hispanic and speaks fluent Spanish. She also has been an annoyance for the city’s current leadership, having led efforts to recall Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla.
Seemingly in retaliation for her trouble-making, city leaders have singled out Cabrera to take an English proficiency exam to prove her eligibility to hold office:
The City Council recently asked for verification that activist and council candidate Alejandrina Cabrera could speak, read and write in English, as state law requires of public officials. The action was in response to allegations by Guillermina Fuentes, a former mayor of the fast-growing border city, the Yuma Sun reported. [...]
The council’s action could mean that the city hires someone to test Cabrera’s English fluency. In San Luis, nearly all 25,000 residents are Latino and about 88% speak a language other than English at home, according to Census Bureau data.
Cabrera is one of 10 council candidates running in the city’s March primary, the Sun said. She is considered something of a rabble-rouser, having spearheaded two failed recall attempts against the current mayor of San Luis, Juan Carlos Escamilla.
Escamilla voted in favor of testing Cabrera’s grasp of English, TV station KSWT reported.
English-only laws have been highly controversial, especially in states like Arizona that have a large number of Hispanic voters, many of whom have a limited grasp of English themselves. It would seem more important that Cabrera can effectively communicate in the language the vast majority of her constituents speak.
The suggestion that her English is not up to scratch is based on anecdotal claims from the very people who are trying to keep her from serving. None of the other Hispanic candidates for office are being asked to prove their English proficiency. In addition, the mayor’s targeting of Cabrera seems somewhat hypocritical given that he admits he is not completely fluent himself.
The Voting Rights Act protects the right of non-English speakers to cast a ballot, but these protections do not apply to candidates. Nevertheless, selectively applying the law based on candidates’ ethnicity or political leanings is troubling. There is nothing in the Constitution that protects English as the exclusive language of the United States.