King’s English bill strikes again

Dan Mackenzie

U.S. Rep. Steve King, who will be running in Iowa’s new fourth district — which includes Ames — has introduced legislation to the House that would make English the official language of the United States.

The bill, H.R. 997, is known as the English Language Unity Act and will be discussed in the House judiciary committee when congress returns to Washington this fall.

Many critics argue such legislation is unnecessary, as English is already the “de facto” official language.

King maintains “it is necessary that we do this,” as he stated in a news release. “Every other country that I can think of has at least one official language.”

In a separate news conference, King elaborated: “Throughout history we have understood that the most powerful force that binds people together is a common language. That is a human universal.”

If this story sounds familiar, it may be because this is the fifth time since 2003 that King has attempted to bring this type of bill to the House floor. Each year the bill fails to make it out of committee. King was successful in getting a similar bill signed into law in Iowa in 2002, however, when he was a state senator.

The bill would require all official actions of the federal government be conducted in English with exceptions for health, safety and justice issues. The law right now requires “each Federal agency [to] examine the services it provides and develop and implement a system by which [non-English speakers] can meaningfully access those services.”

This has been the case since 2000 when former President Bill Clinton signed an executive order to ensure that the federal government did not discriminate based on national origin, as prescribed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If the bill passes, it is not likely to have much effect locally. James Dorset, director of the International Students and Scholars Office said most students and scholars who attend Iowa State have a firm grasp of the English language already.

“In theory, this shouldn’t have a real negative impact on our international students, because they have this certain level of English,” he said. “What it could have an impact on is the dependents of our students and scholars.”

Dorsett said the family members of international ISU students sometimes do not have the same English skills, so trying to access government services may be a bit more difficult.

However, he said: “If we have dependents who need these kinds of services, and the government doesn’t have them in their native language, they usually take someone who can translate for them. So it probably wouldn’t be a huge inconvenience for them.”

Valerie Stubbs, director of the Des Moines office for the United States Council on Refugees and Immigrants, said they feel the proposed law is a bit redundant.

“We fully support understanding English, it’s mandated that we provide it. Because that’s already in place, to us it seems like developing a law is somewhat repetitive and could be seen as a waste of time and resources. Our focus should be on providing funding for English classes.”

The Council on Refugees and Immigrants provides resettlement services for people from all over the world. They help them transition into American life by providing English instruction if needed, by providing housing assistance, as well as job placement and counseling. Their goal is self-sufficiency for their clients.

Stubbs said many of the refugees know that English will be required of them, and there are no assumptions that translation services will be provided.

She said most of them “have already had an orientation from whichever refugee camp they came from, where they had a firm understanding when they arrived in the United States, if they hadn’t already started learning English, that was going to be part of the process.”

Indeed one of the requirements for naturalization in the United States is to have an understanding of English. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, a person needs to be able to read, write and speak basic English.

King stands by his proposal, saying the translation services and multi-lingual government websites provided are an unnecessary strain on the tax payer.

“We are spending billions on interpreters and on multiple printings [of documents],” he said in his news release. “We are spending unnecessary money — borrowed money — to help people access government services in their language,” which he says is causing the United States to go into further debt.

King said that right now, the law “promotes multilingualism in government services and costs us billions over the long run. We want to eliminate that. People can still come in and get their functions from the federal government but let them bring their own interpreter. They always have up until now.”