“The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans,” President Bush declared Monday in his Oval Office address on immigration reform. “English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career and a home of their own.”
As the son of legal Costa Rican immigrants whose mother learned English, taught in the Los Angeles City Schools and earned a master’s degree from Pepperdine University, I found the president’s words pertinent, touching and heartwarming.
How crushing, then, to discover Bush’s remarks at jarring variance with federal policy. Rather than persuade immigrants to speak English and flourish — as have my parents, to their children’s ultimate benefit — the Bush administration actively steers immigrants away from English while actually prosecuting those who expect immigrants to speak America’s (and Earth’s) lingua franca.
From ballot boxes to hospitals, workplaces and even the Internet, Bush’s words and deeds are perpendicular to each other:
_ The administration aggressively promotes multilingual voting. “The Civil Rights Division has made the vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act’s language-minority requirements one of its primary missions,” Rena Comisac, principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee on May 4.
“Since 2001, this administration has filed more minority-language cases under sections 4 and 203 than in the entire previous 26 years in which these provisions have been applicable,” Comisac bragged.
But DOJ will not rest! “And the pace is accelerating,” Comisac continued. “The enforcement actions include cases in Florida, California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. Among these cases were the first suits ever filed under section 203 to protect Filipino and Vietnamese voters,” who vote in their native languages. The administration supports legislation to extend multilingual voting through 2031.
Orange County, Calif., Supervisor Chris Norby testified at this hearing that, under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he already “must provide translations in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean.” Worse, he warned, “If these standards are left unchanged, after the 2010 Census, my county could be required to print ballots in Tagalog, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and Farsi, depending on future immigration patterns.”
_ Bush reaffirmed President Bill Clinton’s executive order that medical centers that accept federal money must provide free translators to foreign-language speakers. Noncompliance can constitute “national origin” discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is expensive and cumbersome for health facilities that receive, say, Medicare reimbursements, to offer complimentary interpreters to non-English-speaking patients. Even if their relatives can handle such needs, federal bureaucrats can make providers furnish translators gratis and file discrimination charges against those who don’t.
_ Bush’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last Sept. 21 sued the Spring Sheet Metal Company in Rochester, N.Y., for $50,000 in damages, plus back wages and pain-and-suffering compensation, for a Cuban-born ex-employee. He screamed “Discrimination!” after his dismissal for speaking Spanish at work. The firm argues that its English-only policy helps laborers prevent accidents in a dynamic environment full of sharp, swiftly moving steel objects.
_ Bush’s hypocrisy is most vivid on his own Web site, WhiteHouse.gov. Click the “Espanol” button and read what he did today in Spanish. What incentive does this give Hispanic immigrants to learn English? Ninguno. None whatsoever.
_ Bilingual-education reform shows the only progress. The Heritage Foundation reports that relevant outlays have soared from $410 million in fiscal year 2001 to $816 million in FY 2006, a fearsome 99 percent increase. However, in 2002, the responsible unit’s name changed from the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs to today’s Office of English Language Acquisition. “No Child Left Behind is putting pressure on local school districts to abandon failed bilingual education programs in favor of English immersion,” says Ben Piper of Pro-English (proenglish.org).
Step two in stopping America’s sprint up the Tower of Babel is to scrap divisive multilingualism and make government conduct official domestic business in English, with limited, commonsense exceptions (e.g., broadcasting Spanish-language tornado warnings and defending foreign criminal suspects in their native tongues).
Step one is for Bush to follow his assimilationist rhetoric and speak English out of just one side of his mouth.
(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.)