April 28, 2003
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Mauro E. Mujica, Chairman of U.S. ENGLISH writes:
Re: Tower Of Babel - USA? by Ed Rubenstein, April 24, 2003
Ed Rubenstein is correct to point to the troubling increase in native born Americans who don't speak English "very well." Our organization, U.S. ENGLISH, has been tracking – and fighting— this trend for several years.
The main problem is that the federal government has taken away the incentive for immigrants to learn English. I immigrated to the United States from Chile in 1965 to study architecture at Columbia University. While English was not my first language, I am perfectly bilingual today. Learning English was never an option nor was it something to which I objected or feared. It was required for success if I wanted to enjoy a prosperous life in the U.S.
Now the roles are reversed: our national and state governments are expected to learn the languages of the immigrants. Today in America, you can vote, take your citizenship test, get a driver's license, apply for welfare benefits, and graduate from a public high school – all without learning English!
Many people are surprised to discover that English is not the official language of the United States government. Twenty-seven states have already made English their official language but the federal government has yet to declare a national language. Critics claim that such laws are unnecessary, but they fail to see the potential problems that a linguistically divided society can bring. We need look no further than our neighbor to the north, Canada, to see the potential problems that can arise from the lack of a common language. Indeed, following a path toward official multilingualism will be fraught with strife and the potential Balkanization of the United States.
Fortunately, a bill introduced in Congress will give all Americans the opportunity to voice their support of our common tongue. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced H.R. 997, the English Language Unity Act of 2003, in February. This legislation would make English the official language of the United States government. Recognizing that fluency in English is necessary for full integration into the American mainstream, H.R. 997 would require the United States government to conduct official business in English. Specifically, the bill would make it so that "all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs and policies" are conducted in the English language.
The government should lead by example and stop catering to those who have not fulfilled their basic responsibilities of American citizenship. Unless we act quickly to stop the drift toward multilingualism, the United States could become a place where government supported foreign-language enclaves are the norm.
Mauro Mujica is Chairman of U.S. ENGLISH, the country's oldest and largest citizens' action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States. Founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California, U.S.ENGLISH now has more than 1.7 million members nationwide.