Michigan Rep. John Conyers responded to Iowa Rep. Steve King’s absurd anti-immigrant congressional shenanigans today with a showy statement of his own today. King had convened a House Judiciary Committee hearing to unveil the latest version of his English Language Unity Act, a bill which would mandate English-only government documents and services. The bill would make English the official language of the U.S., something that’s already true in practice but not codified in law.
“The Judiciary Committee hearing … reflects the need to get a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on this popular issue- 87 percent of Americans say that English should be the official language of the United States,” King said in a press release last week. King’s been trying to get a version of this law passed since 2003.
But today, Conyers stole back some of the spotlight by opening his remarks with a few words in Spanish. Univision’s Jordan Fabian offered a transcription and a translation:
“Hoy en día, los inmigrantes de Asia o América Latina son los objetivos de la demonización y la discriminación,” he said. “Un día, nuestro país mirará hacia atrás a este período con vergüenza y arrepentimiento.” (Translation: Today, immigrants from Asia or Latin America are the targets of demonization and discrimination. One day, our nation will again look back on this period with shame and regret.)
Others have joined Conyers in criticizing King’s efforts. “‘English Only’ laws … are inconsistent with both the First Amendment right to communicate with or petition the government, and the right to equality,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement, Fox News Latino reported. “They are also unnecessary and sometimes even dangerous to both individuals and the public.”
English only laws have a long history in the U.S. American lawmakers have been debating the issue since way back in 1795, when the new German immigrants to the country forced lawmakers to consider whether they ought to translate laws into German. Since then and all the way up until today, English only laws have been staple items on the menu of legislation that immigration restrictionists order up in their thinly veiled nativist attacks on immigrants.
Indeed, a 2010 report from the Migration Policy Institute found that English only laws pop up expressly in response to rapid demographic change, and white anxiety about the shifting face of the towns, states and country they live in.