Two Congressmen Introduce Official-Language Measure
Washington--Senator James A. McClure, Republican of Idaho, and Representative Norman D. Shumway, Republican of California, have introduced a measure to express the sense of the Congress that English is the nation's official language.
Introduction of the concurrent resolution was announced at a press conference April 22 sponsored by U.S. English, the national organization that is lobbying for a constitutional amendment to make English the official language of the United States.
Representative Shumway said the new measure is designed to complement the proposed constitutional amendment--which Congressional aides give little chance of passing this year--and "will draw support from those members of Congress who are sympathetic to the need to protect English, but who are opposed to constitutional change."
The proposed amendment to the Constitution now has 32 sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate. Five states--Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia--have passed legislation declaring English their official language. According to U.S. English, similar bills are pending in 11 more states.
However, State Senator Joseph Corcoran of Indiana, who sponsored an English-language bill that passed in the Indiana legislature last year, said that measure has had no immediate impact.
At the press conference, former Senator S.I. Hayakawa, founder and honorary chairman of U.S. English, accused national Hispanic leaders of pursuing a "separatist" agenda and said they do not speak for most Hispanic Americans.
"The threat to national unity from divisive foreign-language movements comes basically from the Hispanic Caucus" and other leaders of national Hispanic organizations, he said. Mr. Hayakawa also said that he suspected the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of being more interested in bilingual education as a means to gain employment for Spanish3speaking people than as an educational issue.
"I think his charges are totally unfounded," commented Tencha Avila, press aide to the caucus. "There is no movement that I know of from anybody for another national language. ... You don't live long in this country before you realize that for economic viability you've got to learn English."
Ms. Avila and members of other Hispanic organizations have said that the U.S. English movement is irrelevant and unnecessary. "The English language for the longest time--since America's colonies were established--has been the language of business and government and commerce," she said.
Gerda Bikales, executive director of U.S. English, also credited her organization with helping prevent any major increase in funding this year for federal bilingual-education programs.
Ms. Bikales said the organization opposes a current cap on the percentage of funds that can be spent on experimental approaches to teaching children English that do not make use of the child's native language. Bilingual-education programs should be limited to two years at most, she said.
The House version of the English-language amendment specifically states that educational instruction in a language other than English for the purpose of teaching students English shall not be prohibited. The Senate version makes no reference to education.
Critics of U.S. English see the movement as an attack on minority rights and have accused the organization of stirring racial prejudices.
The organization has grown from 366 members less than two years ago to some 100,000 today, according to its leaders.
Representative Shumway said he has received some 35 letters from ethnic organizations in support of the proposed English-language amendment, including the American Hungarian Federation, the Chinese-American Civic Council, and the Polish-American Congress.