Small NY Towns Scared of Spanish, Pass English-Only Laws

By Julianne Hing May 13, 2010

So they’re not trying to empower local police to enforce federal immigration laws, but more and more localities are inserting themselves in the national debate around immigration by introducing similar and just-as-unconstitutional laws. The NY Times reported yesterday on three tiny towns in New York: Jackson and Argyle, whose town boards both passed English-only laws recently, and Easton, which is considering adopting the same kind of law on June 1. The Jackson town board passed an ordinance that forbids the use of any other language besides English during town meetings and all other municipal business. There are 1,700 people there. Argyle followed with its own law that was less broad but also designated English as the official language of the town. The Times-Union caught up with Jackson Town Board member for this priceless bit of copy:

The new rules are merely making official what has been done for the last two centuries, said Carol Rich, a Town Board member who voted in favor of it. "It’s been done for 180 years in English, and hopefully it will continue to be done," said Rich, whose daughter is a Spanish teacher.

And lest anyone think Jackson’s been overrun by the immigrant masses, white people are 97 percent of Jackson; Latinos make up a mere 1.1 percent, Black folks less than 1 percent, Native Americans are 1.2 percent of the population. English-only ordinances are never okay; they’re a reflection only of the short-sighted and xenophobic leanings of their proponents. But they’re especially ridiculous when they’re so terribly unnecessary. And now that the Times has these small towns on their radar and the ACLU has gotten in touch, town leaders are stepping back from their statements:

Assemblyman Tony Jordan, a Republican who represents the area, said the ordinance was merely an attempt to make English the town’s official language and that people were getting worked up more than they should. "I was surprised the Civil Liberties Union knew where the town of Jackson was," he said. "I don’t see it as that big of a deal one way or the other."

Ken Tingley, editor of the local Post-Star paper, criticized the town leaders’ narrow mindedness:

Maybe they all need to take a field trip to Ellis Island to remind themselves that this country was built on hard-working immigrants who often didn’t speak a word of English when they arrived. When did we become so cold, so heartless that if we had an immigrant neighbor we would do everything in our power to throw up roadblocks and make their lives more difficult? When did we become so scared of those that are different? It’s time the town boards in Jackson, Easton and Argyle spent their time on real problems that will advance the betterment of their communities.