Bill Would Make Grasp of English a Citizenship Requirement

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week would designate English as the country's official language and require immigrants to learn English before becoming naturalized citizens.

"English is the language of opportunity in America," the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), said in a statement. "The best way for our newcomers to work toward their own success is through our common bond of language."

King introduced the same legislation in 2005, but the bill never moved out of committee to a vote on the House floor.

"Our long tradition of encouraging English fluency and avoiding a multilingual government has allowed us to forge a common identity in a land of diversity," Mauro Mujica, chairman of U.S. English, said in a statement. "Americans want this tradition to continue."

Mujica said he "look[s] forward to working with these members to grow our sponsorship ranks and educate the public on the need for a common language for government."

The bill currently has 26 co-sponsors, although the number could increase over time. The last version garnered 164 co-sponsors before it died in committee.

Opponents of official English legislation argue that the laws do little to promote the language.

Raul Gonzalez, legislative director for the National Council of La Raza - a non-profit advocacy group for Hispanics - called the legislation "a bad solution to a problem that doesn't exist." He said many immigrants either know or want to learn English so encouraging them to learn the language through legislation will accomplish little.

"Immigrants support English," Gonzalez told Cybercast News Service. "If they support it and they're on these long waiting lists [to take English classes], why do we need a coercive measure to do that?"

Calling the bill the "epitome of bad policy" and "pointless," Gonzalez said pro-English legislation would increase federal funding for English classes.

"People are learning English, and it's despite the fact that the government has been under-funding English programs," he said. "If Mr. King is interested in helping people learn English then he would support increased funding for these programs and he would get rid of his bill, which is pointless."

A June 2006 Rasmussen poll found that 85 percent of Americans support making English the official language of the United States, but it remains a controversial issue.

Earlier this week Nashville, Tenn., Mayor Bill Purcell vetoed local legislation that would have made English the city's official language, saying it would make Nashville "a less safe, less friendly and less successful city."

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