English-Only Amendment Would Endanger Lives, Discriminate and Create ‘Second-Class’ Citizens, ACLU says

June 7, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC -The ACLU today voiced its strong opposition to an amendment passed late last night to the Senate immigration bill that would declare English the national language and severely restrict the government’s ability to communicate with citizens, residents and visitors. The ACLU praised the passage of a competing amendment that would recognize English as the “common and unifying” language of the United States without restricting access to crucial federal information or declaring it the official language.

The passage of the two irreconcilable Senate amendments will have to be worked out in conference, with one of the amendments likely to be abandoned. Amendment 1384, offered by Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), acknowledges the important role of English in the United States without endangering the access of non-English speaking Americans to vital information from their government. Amendment 1151, offered by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), would prevent the federal government from providing any information in languages other than English and restrict constitutionally protected speech between government officials and the Americans they serve.

“The Inhofe English-Only amendment would punish citizens who need access to medical care and disaster relief, and it would raise new barriers to learning English,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This country needs better access to English education for limited speakers, not a mute button on government access for millions of Americans.”

The Inhofe amendment would deny limited-English proficient (LEP) Americans access to basic government information such as instructions on how to pay taxes, which would inadvertently promote tax evasion. It would limit information about federal policies and government services in languages other than English. It would bar instructions about workplace safety, natural disasters and vaccinations in a form that all Americans can understand. It would also prevent LEP patients, particularly the elderly, from communicating with their doctors. It is a dangerous amendment that places every American at risk.

“The Inhofe Amendment does nothing to promote the use of English,” said James Thomas Tucker, ACLU Policy Counsel and author of a 2006 study of ESL waiting times. “It does not reduce the long waiting lists for English classes or educational discrimination against Americans with limited English. Instead, it keeps people who want to learn English from speaking it. It panders to English-only groups seeking to exclude millions of language minorities from American society.”

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