VOL. 18  ISSUE NO. 1   | JANUARY 4 – 10, 2012


Government collects in English, redistributes in 175+ languages

Official English legislation could change that


WASHINGTON – ProEnglish, advocates of official English, defends English’s historic role as America’s common, unifying language, as it works to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.

U.S.English, another organization dedicated to making English our official language, makes it really clear that advocating to make English our official language is not the same as English-only legislation, as it does not ban the use of languages other than English within the United States, and refers solely to the language of government, not that of people, private business, classrooms, etc.

And, if ever there were an argument for making English the official language of the United States, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) could be the poster child.

Last month, the HUD Office of Public Affairs posted “The Many Languages of HUD” on the agency’s blog, announcing: “Have a question about buying a home, rental assistance or foreclosure but English is not your first language? HUD can help with its new HUD Language Line, a live telephone interpretation service that will allow HUD staff to converse with the public in almost any language.”

It goes on to state, “To help HUD staff better communicate with Limited English Proficient (LEP) families about the information they need on housing programs and services, the HUD Language Line, a pilot telephone service will offer live, one-on-one interpretation services in more than 175 languages, 24 hours a day.”

HUD neglects to mention this 24-hour a day translation service is all on the taxpayers’ dime.
HUD’s website also provides as an option for viewing in Spanish.

Government agencies devoted to collecting taxes seem to do so primarily or entirely in English, while agencies responsible for redistribution of that money through various programs and services do so in a multitude of foreign languages.

Arizona is a fine example of just that.

The Arizona Department of Revenue, responsible for collecting taxes, has a website in English with no options for selecting an alternate language, which should be the case for all Arizona state agencies.

In 2006, Arizona voters passed a constitutional amendment, by a near 3-1 margin, making Arizona the 28th state to adopt English as its official language.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), on the other hand, as the agency responsible for doling out a variety of welfare and unemployment insurance benefits, has an option to choose “Español” at the top of its website’s home page, while it offers a link with a phone number to call for “Alternate Language Assistance” in 11 different languages at the bottom of the home page.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), Arizona’s Medicaid agency, which provides health care programs for qualified low-income, senior, blind and disabled residents, has a link for “Español” at the top of its website’s home page and provides applications for assistance in both English and Spanish.

The IRS has a link at the top of its home page for “Español” with another link for “Other Languages” that takes one to its “Multilingual Gateway” where one can also choose among Chinese, Korean, Russian or Vietnamese.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers small business loans, grants, bonds and other financial assistance, has a Google Translate link at the top of its home page that will translate any page on its website into one of over 50 foreign languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish.

Currently, 31 states have some form of official English law.

U.S.English is currently working with Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to help pass H.R.997, the English Language Unity Act of 2011: “To declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstruc-tions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress' powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution.”

Congress declared the following findings:

1. The United States is comprised of individuals from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, and continues to benefit from this rich diversity.

2. Throughout the history of the United States, the common thread binding individuals of differing backgrounds has been the English language.

3. Among the powers reserved to the States respectively is the power to establish the English language as the official language of the respective States, and otherwise to promote the English language within the respective States, subject to the prohibitions enumerated in the Constitution of the United States and in laws of the respective States.

The bill, which would make English the official language of the United States, states, “Representatives of the federal government shall have an affirmative obligation to preserve and enhance the role of English as the official language of the federal government. Such obligation shall include encouraging greater opportunities for individuals to learn the English language.”

The term “official” refers to any function that binds the government, is required by law or is otherwise subject to scrutiny by either the press or the public,” while stating, in practicality, the law “shall apply to all laws, public proceedings, regulations, publications, orders, actions, programs and policies.”

H.R.997 also provides for a Uniform Language Testing Standard and states, “All citizens should be able to read and understand generally the English language text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the laws of the United States made in pursuance of the Constitution,” and would require all naturalization ceremonies to be conducted in English.

The bill, which has 106 cosponsors, including Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., was referred to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution in March.

We can only wonder if there would be any push to make English the official language of any given state or the United States if money were collected by the government in over 175 languages and redistributed only in English.