June 14, 2010
By Gerda Bikales
The issue of how far American society should go to accommodate people who don't know English has taken an odd twist in a case winding its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Three years ago, German Marquez, who speaks only Spanish, was stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence. The police informed him that DUI suspects must consent to take a breath test. When Marquez demurred, it was explained to him was New Jersey State law requires him to do so. Failure to comply is a punishable offense that may result in suspension of his driver's license and a fine of $300 to $2000.
Marquez was convicted in Plainfield Municipal Court on both charges: driving while intoxicated and refusing to take a breath test when asked by police to do so.
This is where things get interesting. Marquez' lawyer, Michael Blacker, did not challenge the DUI conviction, but appealed his client's conviction on the charge of refusing to take the alcohol test. Blacker argued that the explanation about the law on testing should have been given in Spanish, as the accused does not understand English.
The case went to the State Superior Court and on to the state Appellate Court. Both Courts ruled against Marquez—but recommended that the New Jersey make translations of the consent statement available in Spanish and other languages.
The state quickly launched an official website on which recordings of the statement are available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish. [Click here] Police can access the site and play the statement in the suspect's preferred language. However, using the site remains at the discretion of the police and, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, "it is not intended to create any substantive rights for DUI arrestees ".[N.J. Supreme Court to consider if police must give DWI instructions in native language , Jeff Diamant, The New Jersey Star-Ledger, June 6, 2010]
(The Star-Ledger reports that Marquez is not out driving around at this time—he "has been in prison since last July on unrelated drug offenses." See UPDATE: Somerset County arrests 25 in largest single drug seizure in 15 years, By Micheal Deak, MyCentralJersey.com, October 6, 2008)
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus brief in support of mandatory translation of the consent statement. To the argument that Spanish speakers can study for the driver's exam in that language, and that the requirement of consenting to a breath test is clearly explained in the driver's manual, the ACLU counters that Spanish speakers are unfairly treated because they are "held to a higher standard of remembering their prior study of the driver's manual" than are English speakers. It also mentions the wide availability of telephone translation services.
The ACLU's demand for mandatory translation in cases involving tests of alcohol levels derives from the proposition that this is implied when the State makes study materials and testing available in foreign languages. In other words, according to the ACLU the accommodations extended to non-English-speaking applicants for driver's licenses must logically extend to the next step, in this case the consent to take breath tests.
It apparently did not occur to anyone to look backward and question the initial absurdity of allowing people unable to understand and communicate in the language of the country to drive on its roads. This proposition never made sense, and the longer we tolerate it the more irrational will be the demands the flow from it.
[VDARE.com note: Of course, non-English speaking foreign tourists are a separate category—they can drive legally with a license from their home country, and an International Driving Permit which will translate the information from, for example, a French Permis de Conduire into English, for the benefit of an American highway patrolman. What makes them different is that they're only here for a couple of weeks, and they are mostly from First World countries, some of which have higher standards of driver's education than the US. Resident aliens, legal and illegal, are in the country 365 days a year, and some of them are driving 12 hours a day.]
We are seeing the same strategy at work in the laws regulating voting. The dilution of this most fundamental exercise in democratic governance started out modestly, with a plea to allow small numbers of elderly non-English-speaking immigrants who have lived among us for many years to become U.S. citizens by taking the citizenship test in their native tongue. Once this principle was established, the pressure mounted to allow these new citizens the opportunity to vote—in their chosen language. After all, the argument went, we accepted them as citizens knowing that their English-language skills were limited. So how can we now deny these American citizens the right to participate in determining our country's future?
From there, it is but a small step to extend voting rights to people who are not citizens. We allow them to live here for years, pretty much undisturbed; many do pay taxes and their children attend our schools. Isn't it inevitable that, sooner or later, non-citizen voting will also come to pass?
New Jersey's translation of the DUI consent statement into nine languages should give us pause.
Our laws and practices in relation to mass immigration are becoming ever more incoherent and irrational.
We must step back and reexamine the original fallacious thinking that brought us to this point.
We must start afresh to wrestle with the real question: how far we can go in accommodating newcomers, from so many cultural streams, without destroying America itself?
Gerda Bikales [Email her] is a naturalized American, a Holocaust survivor, and founding director of ProEnglish. She is the author of Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, an autobiographical account of her and her mother's harrowing flight across Nazi occupied Europe during World War II. Her interest in protecting English as our unifying national language arose from her personal experience learning English as a sixteen year-old immigrant to the United States. See a letter to VDARE.COM from Bikales here.