Sunday, May 21, 2006


Se habla inglés

On Thursday, the US Senate voted 63 to 34 to add an amendment by Senator Inhofe (R-OK) to the immigration bill. The amendment makes English the "national language" of the US (here's the Washington Post article about it). This unfortunate amendment says, among other things:

Unless otherwise authorized or provided by law, no person has a right, entitlement or claim to have the government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English.

It doesn't stop there, though. Going beyond language alone, it requires prospective citizens to be tested not just on their knowledge of English, but on their knowledge of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the Federalist Papers. Years ago, one of the news programs on local TV went around with a microphone and asked people to recite the words to our national anthem. To be sure, the news show selected for airing those who failed; still, it shows that plenty of red-white-and-blue-blooded, American-born citizens do not know "The Star-Spangled Banner". How does that change their suitability for citizenship, and how does testing new citizens on it provide any value whatever? And we won't consider how few native-born Americans can even tell you what the Federalist Papers are, much less pass a test about them.

Saturday's New York Times has an editorial blasting the amendment. In it, they point out that Inhofe himself made an error in the anthem words on the Senate floor, and they opine that...

[...] he would have done well to require knowledge of other important aspects of American history, too, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing movement and the Ku Klux Klan.

The point there is that we should ask our citizens — existing ones as well as prospective ones — to contribute to our country, to its society and its economy, its culture and its government. We should not refuse to let them join our club because they don't know enough about a poem written about an attack on a fort in the Baltimore harbour. Nor because their English isn't good enough.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

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