Friday, November 30, 2007

No Hablo Ingles

Congress in tiff over English-only rules
Republicans prevent EEOC from enforcing rules on language discrimination
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A government suit against the Salvation Army has the House and Senate at loggerheads over whether to nullify a law that prohibits employers from firing people who don't speak English on the job.

The fight illustrates the explosiveness of immigration as an issue in the 2008 elections.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing hard to protect employers who require their workers to speak English, but Democratic leaders have blocked the move despite narrow vote tallies in the GOP's favor. (To continue: Congress in Tiff… )

My Commentary:
I have generally been opposed to those efforts that prohibit the use of the Spanish language or mandate “English Only”. Earlier this year there was an effort in Nashville to pass a local ordinance prohibiting Metro government from conducting business in any language but English and declaring Metro government as “English Only”. With the growing Hispanic population, many agencies of government had hired bi-lingual personel in service positions and had a Spanish option on the telephone answering services. Some native English speakers took offence and a bill was introduced in the Metro Council to prohibit the provision of services in any language but English. After much public discussion, a watered-down version of the bill passed the Council but Mayor Purcell vetoed the bill and the council failed to override the veto. (To read about it: Nashville Mayor… )

If I had still been serving in the Metro Council, I would not have supported that bill. I think it was mean-spirited and unnecessary. The bill would have probably hurt tourism and development and it does not project the image I want for the city I call home. During the public debate about this bill, some of the mean-spiritedness was really revealed. On radio talk shows, people complained about every encounter with Spanish-speaking people and complained about signs in Spanish and they even complained about ATM cash machines that give an option of having the ATM give the instructions in a variety of languages. Having traveled independently in several foreign countries, I know how welcoming it can be when signs are in English and you encounter people who can speak English and I am thankful that English is an option on ATM machines around the world. The US has few bi-lingual people compared to the rest of the world. With the increase in globalization and the shrinking world, I think it is a plus for America if there are languages other than English spoken in this country.

The current legislation before Congress is different from the English-only bills like the one that Nashville considered. The legislation before Congress is an Amendment to the EEOC budget that would prohibit the EEOC from prosecuting an employer who requires his employees to speak English. This bill would not prohibit anyone from speaking his or her native tongue, and it would not mandate that anyone speak English. Senator Alexander was prompted to propose this amendment by a lawsuit filed in April by the EEOC against the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Massachusetts thrift store for requiring them to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army had clearly posted the rule, and the employees were given a year to learn English.

It is important that foreigners who are going to live in American learn the language and assimilate. It is not mean-spirited to encourage them to learn English. It should not be against the law for an employer to require his employees to speak English on the job. With a backlog of 56,000 cases, the EEOC should be doing something other than prosecuting employers who require their workers speak English. I commend Senator Alexander for this common sense proposal. (read more: Alexander...)

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