Arguing that the English language needs protection, Tennessee and Georgia state legislators introduced several bills ranging from declaring English the official state language to eliminating translations of written driver’s tests.
Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, Ga., who introduced a Senate bill in his state that would prohibit government employers from requiring workers to learn a second language to be hired or promoted, said a Dalton, Ga., policy inspired his proposal.
He read several months ago that the Dalton Police Department requires officers seeking a promotion to take 80 hours of Spanish.
“This is just another erosion of the use of English,” he said.
Greg Batts, Dalton’s human resources director, said Sen. Douglas’ proposal wouldn’t be practical.
“It’s no secret. Spanish is widely spoken in Dalton,” he said. Such a law wouldn’t allow the city to hire employees who meet Dalton’s needs, he said.
But Dalton resident Octavio Perez said it is not the government’s job to communicate with Spanish speakers.
“Everybody should learn English,” said Mr. Perez, a Colombian-born real estate agent. “Otherwise you’re going to create a society that’s going to be a second-class society all of their lives.”
Political activist Jerry Gonzalez said legislators merely are engaging in “immigrant bashing.”
The Georgia House failed last week to pass a resolution to declare English the state’s official language, which Mr. Gonzalez described as a “foolish issue.” Immigrants already know that English is the “language of upward mobility,” said Mr. Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
“There’s no need to make it the official language. Our education, transportation, water needs are priorities we need to be addressing. Instead, they’re wasting their time on these unnecessary ... (pieces of) legislation,” he said.
After the first generation of Hispanic immigrants, English quickly becomes the dominant language, according to a report on English usage by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Only 23 percent of first-generation Hispanic immigrants reported speaking English well, the report states, compared to 88 percent of second generations and 94 percent of later generations.
Still, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, Tenn., who introduced a Senate bill protecting employers who enact English-only policies from being sued, said there is an “assault on English in various respects.”
“I don’t think there’s any harm in just codifying what we all believe: If you are going to succeed in the U.S., you need to know and understand English,” he said.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit last year against the Salvation Army in Massachusetts for its English-only policy that resulted in the firing of two Hispanic workers.
Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, Tenn., said learning English is a matter of public safety.
He said he fully supports a bill by state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, that would eliminate all translated versions of the written driver’s license exam.
“We can’t allow people to drive on our highways legally when they can’t understand English,” Rep. Cobb said.
Dalton resident Francisco Palacios said it is necessary to learn English, but these bits of legislation breed hostility toward immigrants. Georgia already is gaining a reputation as an “anti-immigrant” state, he said.
“It’s not inviting. ... You feel like you’re always being watched,” he said.
Around the United States, state legislators have introduced English language-related legislation.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there were at least 40 such bills introduced this year in nearly 20 states. Last year, 103 English language-related bills were introduced in 25 states, records show.
Sen. Ketron, who wrote the driver’s license bill, introduced it last year, but it failed to pass the House.
He hopes the bill is enacted this year in “its true form” without any amendments.
“If we pick up a few votes,” Sen. Ketron said, “I think we might be able to pass it this year. It’s a huge issue, even on a national level.”
MOST-SPOKEN LANGUAGES IN THE U.S.
* English: 215,423,555
* Spanish: 28,101,052
* Chinese: 2,022,143
* French: 1,643,838
Source: The Modern Language Association
Below are English-only-related bills proposed in Tennessee and Georgia:
* SB 2849 and HB 3096 — Protecting English in the Tennessee Workplace Act state: It’s not an unlawful employment practice for an employer to require an employee to speak, or an applicant for employment to agree to speak, English while engaged in work.
Passed Senate Commerce, Labor, and Agriculture on with an amendment. The amendment attempts to bring the bill into compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and federal EEOC guidance on English-only policies. It specifies that for an English-only policy not to be discriminatory, it must be substantiated by “business necessity” with proper notice given to all employees.
* SB 3644 and HB 3113 — English-Only Drivers Act: Eliminates all translations of the written driver license exam.
* SB 335 — Relates to the designation of English as the official language of Georgia so as to prohibit a state agency or political subdivision of the state from requiring an employee to speak or learn any language other than the official language of the state to be employed, maintain employment, or to be eligible for a promotion; to provide for exceptions.
* HR 413 — Proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to declare English as the official language of the state of Georgia, which failed to pass the House last week.
* HB 21 — Relates to English designated as the official language, constitutional rights not denied, authorization for documents and forms in other languages, and exceptions, so as to provide that public entities shall provide forms and documents only in English.
Sources: Tennessee and Georgia state legislatures’ Web sites, Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...