GOP lawmaker touts English bill
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 13, 2005
Voters may decide official language; Hispanic leaders upset

Elvia Díaz

Hispanic leaders responded with indignation Wednesday to a plan by state lawmakers to declare English the official language of Arizona.

House Concurrent Resolution 2030 would allow voters to require that most government business be conducted in English. The state, cities and counties could not print documents such as water bills in Spanish or any other foreign language.

One prominent Latino called the proposal a "slap in the face" to Hispanics, who make up 25 percent of Arizona's 5 million residents.

"It's insulting to Hispanics and Native Americans and anyone else who speak a different language," said Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.

The proposal offered by Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa and co-sponsored by five other legislators comes 16 years after voters approved an English-only law that eventually was declared unconstitutional.

"We're an English-only nation, and our records should reflect that," Pearce said. "If you come to America, you should speak English."

If approved by the Legislature, the measure would be on the 2006 ballot.

In 1988, Arizona voters approved the English-only law but the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because it violated free speech and equal-protection rights.

Pearce said his proposal is different from the 1988 referendum because it doesn't keep anyone from speaking or learning other languages. It would not apply to election ballots and documents necessary for international trade, tourism and to protect the public's health and safety.

The measure does call for all government functions to be done in English, including public meetings and publications.

For instance, Phoenix would no longer be able to print water bills in Spanish, neighborhood newsletters and other documents. The bills and documents are currently available by request.

Some state government agencies also print documents in Spanish. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, for example, offers applications in Spanish. The English-only measure would not affect people speaking a language privately or while conducting private business.

The resolution says the common thread binding individuals of differing backgrounds in the United States has been language.

"I enjoy speaking Spanish, but the primary language throughout the world is English," said Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park. "The more we get our immigrants used to using English, the more they will be able to compete in the worldwide economy."

No one denies the importance of learning English, some Latinos said. But declaring English the official language is not practical because of Arizona's proximity to Mexico, said Alejandro Chávez, a Phoenix resident and member of the Mexican government's Institute of Migrants Abroad.

"We should be embracing other languages, not limiting our options," Chávez said in Spanish.

Jack Jackson Jr., a Native American and former state legislator, said he isn't sure how Pearce's initiative would affect Indian tribes.

"It seems pointless," Jackson Jr. said. "It seems more like a continuation of the anti-immigrant movement."

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