Last month, ProEnglish, one of several organizations that advocate English as the official language of the U.S. (English First and U.S. English are others), published an English Only report card for Republican primary candidates. Before looking at what they had to say about candidates’ positions, however, it is worthwhile to tease apart what English Only means to take a quick look at who ProEnglish is.
¿Hablas tú English Only?
Strictly speaking, the term English Only usually refers to the movement to make English the one and only language of local, state and federal government business, from interactions in government offices to the written language used in government publications, such as forms, applications and tests. This movement has frequently taken the form of (as yet unsuccessful) attempts to make English the official language of the country.
But, it has also manifested itself in efforts to eliminate bilingual education in public schools and to eliminate the requirement that ballots be provided in languages other than English, among many other official uses of languages other than English.
Many of those who advocate for English Only tend to very carefully avoid that phrase, preferring other terms like ‘official English’ because ‘English Only’ is misleading and implies that the movement endeavors to ban languages other than English.
They often insist that they support or respect the use of languages other than English in non-official, non-public contexts, such as in the home.
This position is either disingenuous or willfully ignores the research on and the realities of maintaining minority languages in bi- and multilingual contexts. The English Only movement attempts to dismantle the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 and key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which were remedies for widespread disenfranchisement and cornerstones of Civil Rights legislation.
The goals of the English Only movement directly contradict the world community’s evolving consensus on linguistic rights as human rights as expressed in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly nearly two decades ago, in December 1992, most notably the beliefs that: “States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories, and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity” (Article 1), that “Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities…have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination” (Article 2), and that “States should take appropriate measures so that, wherever possible, persons belonging to minorities have adequate opportunities to learn their mother tongue or to have instruction in their mother tongue” (Article 4).
Who is ProEnglish?
The positions that ProEnglish advocates go well beyond simply making the de facto common language of the country, English, the de jure sole language of the U.S. government. That an organization can make U.S. English, which lost a great deal of its credibility in the late 1980s when its founder and leader John Tanton was exposed as embracing White supremacist ideologies and endorsing eugenics, look moderate is saying something, but that is exactly what ProEnglish does.
Tanton – who is also the founder of FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), which the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a hate group, and was recently described by the New York Times as ‘The Anti-Immigration Crusader’ – founded ProEnglish after resigning from U.S. English.
He continues to serve on the Board of Directors.
In addition to advocating for English as the official language of all levels of government, the organization also opposes the DREAM Act as well as Puerto Rican statehood and even the singing of the national anthem or reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in languages other than English, and it supports the right of private businesses to require employees to speak only English (even in private conversations) on the job. According to the organization’s website, ProEnglish sees multiculturalism as “proving destructive to society” and as a “gradual overhaul of centuries-old American traditions in order to capitulate to every demand of every culture of immigrant in the United States”.
The candidates’ report cards
And now for the candidate ratings by ProEnglish (listed in order of their showing in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses):
Mitt Romney rated worst among the three leading candidates. His D+ grade was earned chiefly it would seem because he has no stated position on most of the issues of interest to ProEnglish—official English, bilingual ballots, Puerto Rico statehood, and English in the workplace. ProEnglish does, however, find that Romney enthusiastically endorsed an English immersion position and helped to dismantle Massachusetts’ bilingual education program (even though he did not support the anti bilingual education initiative while running for governor) and he is credited with having vetoed legislation while Governor of Massachusetts that would have granted ‘DREAMers’ in-state tuition benefits at public universities. He just this week stated unequivocally in response to a question at a primary campaign event that if he were elected President and Congress passed the DREAM Act, he would veto it.
Rick Santorum may have trailed Romney by 8 votes in Iowa, but he beat him in ProEnglish’s report card, receiving a grade of C. They commend his votes in support legislation to make English the official language and his endorsement of the ‘melting pot’ metaphor as evidenced by an assimilationist anecdote in a 2012 Republican primary debate about his immigrant grandfather and father being forced to learn English. They criticize, however, his position on Puerto Rican statehood, as he cosponsored the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2006, which did not contain a stipulation that as a prerequisite to statehood English must be made the sole official language of the island, and they are concerned about his lack of a public position on bilingual ballots and English Only in the workplace.
Ron Paul, a competitive third place finisher in Iowa, received the only straight A from ProEnglish, based on his co-sponsorship of the various legislative efforts to make English the official language of the U.S., to eliminate bilingual ballots, to support English Only in the workplace, and to eliminate government publications in languages other than English, as well as his ‘no’ vote on the DREAM Act.
Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann, while they did not fare as well with Iowa voters, both received an A- from ProEnglish; Bachmann was apparently rated slightly less than perfect for her lack of an official position denouncing bilingual ballots, and Gingrich was seemingly downgraded for his vote in favor of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 and his support of Puerto Rican statehood in the 1990s. The two remaining Republican primary candidates evaluated by the group – John Huntsman and Rick Perry – as well as President Obama all receive a failing grade.
What does it mean?
A lingering question, is how many people in key early primary states in 2012 will make English Only, or even immigration more broadly, a litmus test for their Republican presidential candidate? Whatever one might think of the ProEnglish organization, one thing is clear: the broad range of grades assigned to those who have so far survived the brutal primary season indicates, it would seem, a real lack of consensus on English Only and immigration among Republicans.