Arizona voters overwhelmingly made English the state’s official language Tuesday, supporting a measure that also calls on local governments to promote its pre-eminence.
The ballot initiative, viewed by many as a backlash against illegal immigration, passed with 74 percent of the vote. It does contain exemptions for “areas where foreign language use is protected,” including emergency medical services.
“English is essential to the promise of equal opportunity in America,” said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish, a Virginia-based group that supports making English the official language of the United States.
With the passage of Proposition 103, Arizona joins 28 other states, including California and Texas, and 52 nations that have designated English as their official language.
Despite its passage by a nearly 3-1 margin, Lorraine Lee, executive vice president of Chicanos Por La Causa, an Arizona-based nonprofit community-development corporation, said it sends a bad message to immigrants trying to assimilate.
“It makes me very fearful of what the future holds because I think that this may potentially send out a message that it’s OK to continue to bash immigrants,” she told the Arizona Daily Star.
In 1988, Arizona voters narrowly passed a similar measure, 50 percent to 49 percent, but it called for all official government business to be conducted in English. It was struck down unanimously by the state Supreme Court because it interfered with access to government.
Mr. McAlpin said he was confident that the latest measure addressed the court’s concerns and would be upheld. It does call on state and local government to limit use of dual language in printed material for circulation.
Pre-election polling indicated that about 50 percent of Hispanic voters supported Proposition 103 and two other measures that called on denying illegal aliens access to bail and punitive damages in legal proceedings. Those measures also passed.
Passage of a fourth ballot measure that calls for denying illegal aliens access to adult education and in-state college tuition rates was opposed by 66 percent of Hispanics.
A Zogby poll commissioned by ProEnglish last year found that 84 percent of Americans supported making English the official language.
“English is our national language. It’s time for Congress to follow the example of Arizona and 27 other states and declare English the official language of the United States,” said Mr. McAlpin.
According to 2000 U.S. Census data, 16.3 percent of the population — or more than 41.6 million people — did not speak English.