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The Salt Lake Tribune
English Only: What Will Utah Voter Initiative Prove To Be?
By REP. JOSE E. SERRANO
February 18, 2001
Judge Ronald Nehring is expected to rule later this month on the constitutionality of an English-only law in Utah.
In November, state residents filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which requires state and local governments to conduct business in English. Such legislation is yet another attempt to unjustly deny representation and essential services to non-English-proficient members of our society. It is unconstitutional and unfair and it represents the divide-and-conquer tactics the American public condemns time and again.
Americans recognize that English is important and is the main language of this country. But knowing another language doesn't hurt. If we left it up to English-only proponents, they would argue that knowing more than one language is a liability, not an asset. They're wrong.
Such measures are the very reason I reintroduced the "English- Plus Resolution" in the House of Representatives recently. If enacted into law, it would establish the United States government's commitment to promote the learning and usage of English as well as other languages in this nation. I originally introduced English-Plus in the House of Representatives in 1995. The resolution was proposed as an alternative to English-only measures, which would prohibit the federal government from conducting its business in languages other than English. At the time, English-only laws were abundant in the United States. Today, 24 states have enacted English-only legislation.
For those who argue that people don't speak English anymore, that's a fallacy. There is no threat to the status of English in the United States.
In fact, it is the language that is spoken by 94 percent of United States residents, according to the 1990 Census. Immigrants are anxious to become proficient in English because they know it is necessary to succeed in this country.
Here are some of the reasons English-plus makes sense. It: affirms that English is the language of the United States; promotes English proficiency through educational opportunities; recognizes that multilingualism is an asset, not a liability; opposes the imposition of unconstitutional language policies on the federal government and the American people; and supports the view that our nation's strength lies in its pursuit of justice, freedom and opportunity.
For all of the above reasons, states like Utah should adopt English-Plus legislation. As for those who continue to insist that English should be the official language of the United States, they should remember that English already is the official language of this country and it is unnecessary to make it a law.
English-only sends a message of intolerance of the international community and it only serves to divide our country. English-Plus creates bridges among people from various cultures and serves to unite our country.
Congressman Jose E. Serrano, who represents the 16th Congressional District in the South Bronx, was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and is ranking Democrat on the Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary, and Related Agencies subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.