Public opinion surveys in recent years show the large majority of Americans of all backgrounds and political persuasions support English as our official language of government. In light of this overwhelming national sentiment, there is an urgent need to respond to the alarming disconnect that undermines America’s traditional process of assimilation.
In order to become a citizen, you must prove you are proficient in the English language. Yet, because government and business all too often are focused on removing incentives for immigrants to learn English, linguistic ghettos are being formed and continue to grow.
Indeed, one sure way to stop the government drift toward multilingualism — and avoid the costs and conflicts that beset societies divided by language — is for President Trump to repeal Executive Order 13166.
This executive order, issued during the last days of the Clinton administration, discourages assimilation of legal immigrants by requiring that the federal government provide expensive translation services in any foreign language.
A study by the Office of Management and Budget during the first term of the Bush administration estimated these additional translation costs amounted to over $2 billion a year for the taxpayer. This OMB study is a dozen years old now, and the costs have obviously skyrocketed.
E.O. 13166 heavily impacts the area of health care, to cite just one example. Requiring extra translation services for the over 300 languages spoken in this country only increases the cost of health care on all Americans while promoting linguistic divisions.
Doctors, hospitals and health care providers who participate in Medicare face the loss of federal funding and even prosecution if they fail to provide interpreters for non-English-speaking patients free of charge.
Before this executive order, family members, friends or bilingual health care providers provided translation services for those with limited English skills. It should be that way again.
Speaking English is the essential foundation of the melting pot tradition that Americans have valued for generations. In fact, learning to speak English is almost a guarantee that immigrants will increase their earning power and really have a chance at pursuing the American dream.
The late, distinguished chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Rep. Barbara Jordan, Texas Democrat, reinforced the critical importance of preserving our common language, saying: “Cultural and religious diversity does not pose a threat to the national interest as long as public policies ensure civic unity.”
We should take the congresswoman’s wisdom to heart, and that’s why Congress should finally consider passing H.R. 997 — the English Language Unity Act of 2017 by Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. It would designate English as the official language of government in all 50 states. There are 54 countries in the world that have made English their official language. The United States would be wise to do the same.
Every American should be proud of his national origin, ethnicity, native language and customs. But without public policies that reinforce the ties that unite us, our multilingual diversity will become our nation’s undoing.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump told ProEnglish that he supports the concept of English as the official language of government. Vice President Mike Pence, while serving in Congress, was a co-sponsor of official English-in-government legislation. So it only makes sense that the president adds E.O. 13166 to his list of unwise or unconstitutional presidential fiats that should be relegated to the trash can.
After all, as Mr. Trump himself said during a campaign debate, “We have a country where to assimilate, you have to speak English.” And a basic requirement of U.S. citizenship is that one must be proficient in the English language.
• Stephen Guschov is the executive director of the Washington, D.C-based ProEnglish.