- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

Several members of Congress are pushing for legislation to make English the nation’s official language as a part of any immigration reform as lawmakers continue to debate the issue on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, raised the issue earlier this year as a way to eliminate the costs and problems that localities encounter with foreign-language ballots.

“Multilingual ballots encourage a linguistic divide in our nation and discourage law-abiding immigrants from learning English to naturalize and assimilate into our society,” Mr. King said.

But the continuing immigration debate in both houses of Congress has intensified the English issue and given Mr. King and 56 other lawmakers cause to propose language bills.

Sen. James M. Inhofe on Friday introduced a bill similar to Mr. King’s that the Oklahoma Republican said should go hand in hand with any immigration reform. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, who spoke to the same issue Wednesday, joined him.

A recent Zogby poll shows public support for such a measure.

The March 14 to 16 poll of 1,007 likely voters with a margin of error of three percentage points showed that 63 percent of Americans would like to have ballots and voting materials only in English, compared with 35 percent who wanted them printed in English and other languages.

Chris Norby, a supervisor in Orange County, Calif., said federal agencies’ regulations are confusing to state officials and cost taxpayers millions each election cycle.

“Under current law, Orange County is required to provide ballots in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean, and we could be asked to add more by the next cycle. It costs $600,000 now,” Mr. Norby said.

K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish, a group advocating to make English the nation’s official language, said the major problems stem from poor interpretation by the Census Bureau and a misconception that making English the official language is racist or discriminatory.

“There are 51 countries in the world who have made English the official language for government operations and documents, but that doesn’t prevent the government from speaking in other languages or providing services in other languages if they want,” Mr. McAlpin said.

Civil rights and civil liberties advocates disagree and always have fought for multilingual government documents, saying immigrants can understand them and are not left out or exploited. Mr. King said those arguments are “a calculated exploitation.”

“I don’t think the immigrants are the problem; I think it is the people at the border that are telling them that they don’t have to learn English, should not have to and keep them in these cultural enclaves so that then allows them to control the immigrants and gives them political power,” Mr. King said.

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