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Is the Supreme Court about to require American governments to function in foreign languages on demand? Incredibly, it's on the verge of doing just that. This is not just a question of peppering stump speeches with a few sentences of mindless, George P. Bush-style, feel-good pandering.  As VDARE has repeatedly noted, "bilingualism" has powerful public-choice consequences: it advantages the minority and dispossesses the majority. It's the cutting edge of the Abolition of America. Watch this space.

Recovering from the epic of the dimpled chads, the Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 16, will hear Sandoval v. Alexander, a much more significant case about "Official English." The ruling may reveal whether the American future might still be that of an ethnically diverse but culturally united country; or instead one where substantial ethnic divisions are hardened by mandated official multilingualism.


Martha Sandoval is a fifty-year old Mexican woman with nine children and a second grade education, who wanted to drive rather than walk to her jobs in Mobile, Alabama. Problem was, she couldn't pass the driving test, which in Alabama is given - following an Official English statute passed ten years ago - only in English.


After she was arrested repeatedly for driving without a license, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union took up Sandoval's case. She won when a district court judge held that the English requirement amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of "national origin" - and thus a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which of course says nothing about language.)  Her victory threatens the entire edifice of law and custom pushing new immigrants to learn English.


Appealing the district court's ruling is the Alabama Department of Public Safety. Several English language advocacy groups including Pro-English, English First, as well as the Center for American Unity  (the sponsor of this website) have filed an amici curia brief, alongside several Republican Congressmen.


If Sandoval's attorneys prevail, the implications are vast: anyone inconvenienced by the use of "official" English will be able (or more realistically, encouraged) to claim "discrimination" under Title VI and sue for damages.  Official multilingualism is already widespread. The Clinton administration has tried, as quietly as possible, to widen its margins. Last August it issued an Executive Order claiming that foreign language rights were a civil right under Title VI. A court victory for Sandoval would reinforce this bizarre claim, one which could never pass Congress in broad daylight.


A growing heap of legal cases over language bears witness to the discord and unease over the nation's accelerating ethnic diversity. The silence of many conservative Republicans (and of Dubya's campaign) may be taken as acknowledgement of the futility of the politically safe "assimilation" position on immigration pushed with so much fanfare by the establishment conservative press a year or so ago.


What sort of country will we become as we take in too many immigrants to assimilate comfortably, then reduce even further their incentive to make the effort?


One sign: the case literature about "speak English in the workplace" regulations (obviously on the endangered list if Sandoval prevails) contains several references to one of its little-known purposes: to deter immigrant employees from hurling racial slurs at their American colleagues in their native tongues. Perhaps that is a problem to be dealt with by more expansive "hate speech" statutes.


The choices are clear and unavoidable: we can demonstrate in word and deed that we expect immigrants to learn English and assimilate (the anti-bilingual education ballot initiatives organized by Ron Unz may be turning the tide in the right direction on that question). Or we can pursue national deconstruction as a fevered goal, seeking abjectly to accommodate immigrants in their native tongues, urging them to sue when we fall short.


How interesting it would be to listen to the deliberations at the Southern Poverty Law Center and like groups as they beat the bushes for mediagenic plaintiffs and lawsuits to file. A scant generation ago, the leading lights of American liberalism talked naturally about this country's need to strengthen its common civic culture - pointing to "fellowship, community, shared patriotism" as "essential values of our civilization" (in the words of Bobby Kennedy) and vital for America's success.


For their part, today's multiculturalist liberals - from the Clinton White House to the ACLU - have grabbed the statutes of the civil rights movement in order to twist them into a shape never intended or imagined, and are using them to hammer away at the common culture. Knowing that the English language once served as a great unifier which helped the nation absorb a huge mass of immigrants and turn them, eventually, into Americans, they have now put Official English on the chopping block. What can they be thinking?

Other VDARE articles on bilingualism

January 13, 2001

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