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104th Congress Report
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
2d Session 104-723
ENGLISH LANGUAGE EMPOWERMENT ACT OF 1996
July 30, 1996.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the
State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. Goodling, from the Committee on Economic and Educational
Opportunities, submitted the following
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 123]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, to
whom was referred the bill (H.R. 123) to amend title 4, United
States Code, to declare English as the official language of the
Government of the United States, having considered the same,
reports favorably thereon with an amendment and recommends that
the bill as amended do pass.
The amendment is as follows:
Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert in lieu
thereof the following:
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the ``English Language Empowerment Act of
SEC. 2. FINDINGS.
The Congress finds and declares the following:
(1) The United States is comprised of individuals and groups
from diverse ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds.
(2) The United States has benefited and continues to benefit
from this rich diversity.
(3) Throughout the history of the United States, the common
thread binding individuals of differing backgrounds has been a
(4) In order to preserve unity in diversity, and to prevent
division along linguistic lines, the Federal Government should
maintain a language common to all people.
(5) English has historically been the common language and the
language of opportunity in the United States.
(6) The purpose of this Act is to help immigrants better
assimilate and take full advantage of economic and occupational
opportunities in the United States.
(7) By learning the English language, immigrants will be
empowered with the language skills and literacy necessary to
become responsible citizens and productive workers in the
(8) The use of a single common language in conducting
official business of the Federal Government will promote
efficiency and fairness to all people.
(9) English should be recognized in law as the language of
official business of the Federal Government.
(10) Any monetary savings derived from the enactment of this
Act should be used for the teaching of the English language to
non-English speaking immigrants.
SEC. 3. ENGLISH AS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
(a) In General.--Title 4, United States Code, is amended by adding at
the end the following new chapter:
``CHAPTER 6--LANGUAGE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
``161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government
``162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language
``163. Official Federal Government activities in English
``165. Reform of naturalization requirements
``167. Rule of construction
``168. Affirmation of constitutional protections
``Sec. 161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government
``The official language of the Federal Government is English.
``Sec. 162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language
``Representatives of the Federal Government shall have an affirmative
obligation to preserve and enhance the role of English as the official
language of the Federal Government. Such obligation shall include
encouraging greater opportunities for individuals to learn the English
``Sec. 163. Official Federal Government activities in English
``(a) Conduct of Business.--Representatives of the Federal Government
shall conduct its official business in English.
``(b) Denial of Services.--No person shall be denied services,
assistance, or facilities, directly or indirectly provided by the
Federal Government solely because the person communicates in English.
``(c) Entitlement.--Every person in the United States is entitled--
``(1) to communicate with representatives of the Federal
Government in English;
``(2) to receive information from or contribute information
to the Federal Government in English; and
``(3) to be informed of or be subject to official orders in
``Sec. 164. Standing
``A person injured by a violation of this chapter may in a civil
action (including an action under chapter 151 of title 28) obtain
``Sec. 165. Reform of naturalization requirements
``(a) Fluency.--It has been the longstanding national belief that
full citizenship in the United States requires fluency in English.
English is the language of opportunity for all immigrants to take their
rightful place in society in the United States.
``(b) Ceremonies.--All authorized officials shall conduct all
naturalization ceremonies entirely in English.
``Sec. 166. Application
``Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the provisions of
this chapter shall supersede any existing Federal law that contravenes
such provisions (such as by requiring the use of a language other than
English for official business of the Federal Government).
``Sec. 167. Rule of construction
``Nothing in this chapter shall be construed--
``(1) to prohibit a Member of Congress or an employee or
official of the Federal Government, while performing official
business, from communicating orally with another person in a
language other than English;
``(2) to discriminate against or restrict the rights of any
individual in the country; and
``(3) to discourage or prevent the use of languages other
than English in any nonofficial capacity.
``Sec. 168. Affirmation of constitutional protections
``Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to be inconsistent with
the Constitution of the United States.
``Sec. 169. Definitions
``For purposes of this chapter:
``(1) Federal government.--The term `Federal Government'
means all branches of the national Government and all employees
and officials of the national Government while performing
``(2) Official business.--The term `official business' means
governmental actions, documents, or policies which are
enforceable with the full weight and authority of the Federal
Government, and includes publications, income tax forms, and
informational materials, but does not include--
``(A) teaching of languages;
``(B) actions, documents, or policies necessary for--
``(i) national security issues; or
``(ii) international relations, trade, or
``(C) actions or documents that protect the public
health and safety;
``(D) actions or documents that facilitate the
activities of the Census;
``(E) actions, documents, or policies that are not
enforceable in the United States;
``(F) actions that protect the rights of victims of
crimes or criminal defendants;
``(G) actions in which the United States has
initiated a civil lawsuit; or
``(H) documents that utilize terms of art or phrases
from languages other than English.
``(3) United states.--The term `United States' means the
several States and the District of Columbia.''.
(b) Conforming Amendment.--The table of chapters for title 4, United
States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new item:
``6. Language of the Federal Government..................... 161''.
SEC. 4. PREEMPTION.
This Act (and the amendments made by this Act) shall not preempt any
law of any State.
SEC. 5. EFFECTIVE DATE.
The amendments made by section 3 shall take effect on the date that
is 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act.
Explanation of Amendments
The provisions of the substitute, as amended by those
amendments agreed to during the bill's mark-up, are explained
in this report.
The purpose of this Act is to amend Title IV, United States
Code, to declare English as the official language of the
Government of the United States.
H.R. 123, ``The Language of Government Act of 1995,'' was
introduced in the House of Representatives on January 4, 1995
by Representative Bill Emerson (R-MO). This bill was referred
to the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities on
the same day. On January 24, 1995 it was referred to the
Subcommittee on Early Childhood Youth and Families. The
Committee was also referred three other bills regarding English
as the official or common language: H.R. 345, Language of
Government Act of 1995, introduced on January 4, 1995 by Rep.
Owen Pickett; H.R. 739, Declaration of Official Language Act of
1995, introduced on January 30, 1995 by Rep. Toby Roth; and
H.R. 1005, the National Language Act of 1995, introduced on
February 21, 1995 by Rep. Peter T. King.
All of these bills were discussed at two Subcommittee
hearings regarding ``English as a Common Language.'' The first
occurred on October 18, 1995 and the following witnesses
testified at the hearing; Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL);
Representative Bill Emerson (R-MO); Representative Peter King
(R-NY); Representative Toby Roth (R-WI); and Representative
Jose Serrano (D-NY).
The second hearing was held on November 1, 1995 and the
following witnesses testified: the Honorable Everett Alvarez of
Conwall Inc.; Mr. Edward Chen of the American Civil Liberties
Union; Ms. Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity;
Ms. Maria Lopez-Otin a Cuban immigrant and Federal liaison at
the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Honorable Nimi
McConigly, State Representative from Wyoming; Mr. Charles
Gogolak, former professional football player and Hungarian
immigrant; Dr. Geeta Dalal, an immigrant from India; Mr. Mauro
Mujica of U.S. English.
The Early Childhood Youth and Families Subcommittee was
discharged from further consideration of the bill. On, July 23,
1996, the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities
ordered H.R. 123 favorably reported, as amended, by a vote of
19 to 17.
H.R. 123, the ``English Empowerment Act of 1996,'' amends
Title 4 of the United States Code by adding a new chapter
entitled ``Language of the Federal Government.'' This
legislation declares English as the official language of the
Federal Government. H.R. 123 mandates that the government
conduct its official business in English, with the following
exceptions: the teaching of languages; international relations,
trade or commerce; actions or documents that protect the public
health and safety; actions or documents that are not
enforceable in the United States; actions that protect the
rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants; actions in
which the United States has initiated a civil law suit;
documents that utilize terms of art or phrases from languages
other than English; actions or documents that facilitate the
activities of the Census. According to the legislation no one
may be denied services because they communicate in English.
This bill allows standing to sue for violations of this Act.
H.R. 123 mandates that all naturalization services be conducted
in English. There is a rule of construction that requires that
this bill to be consistent with the Constitution of the United
States and that allows federal employees to communicate orally
in languages other than English.
Explanation of the Bill and Committee Views
We are a nation of immigrants. Our history has been shaped
by the contributions of immigrants of different cultures,
religions and languages from around the world. We are proud of
our nation's ability to assimilate people from around the world
into one cohesive society. The purpose of H.R. 123, ``The
English Language Empowerment Act of 1996'', is to build upon
our nation's historic tradition as a melting pot of diverse
cultures from around the world, and to bind us together through
the use of English as a common language.
Over the past few decades, Congressional action and
inaction has resulted in a balkanized national language policy,
devoid of any clear, uniform principles. For example, whether
documents are published in a foreign language depends in large
part upon the particular Federal statute involved. Some Federal
statutes require materials to be provided in an individual's
native language or mode of communication. In other statutes,
Federal law provides for services in the language and cultural
context most appropriate to the individuals. While such
provisions may initially sound reasonable, they have
consequences. As Linda Chavez, former director of the United
States Commission on Civil Rights, and current President of the
Center for Equal Opportunity stated in testimony before the
Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth, and Families:
[T]he public policy that has been in place over the
last 25 years * * * has discouraged immigrants from
learning English, and has made it quite possible for
immigrants to function in all aspects of their civic
life in their original language.
The Committee believes it is time for a change; it is time
to take stock of the piecemeal policies that have evolved, and
replace them with a more uniform policy across all of the
Right now, the Bureau of the Census informs us that over
320 different languages are spoken in the United States. Given
this fact, it is obvious that Federal taxpayers cannot possibly
publish every Federal document of whatever kind in 320
different languages. Furthermore, one might also make the case
that the current situation of selectively choosing to sanction
a particular foreign language (i.e. publishing a document in
Spanish and not the 319 others) the Federal Government is
implicitly favoring certain languages and peoples over others.
It is better to have one common language.
General Accounting Office Report
No one knows for sure exactly how many Federal publications
are printed in languages other than English. In 1995, in
response to a request for foreign language documents from
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the late Representative Bill
Emerson (R-MO), and Representative William Clinger (R-PA), the
General Accounting Office (GAO) wrote:
We found that no single, comprehensive data source
existed within the federal government that could
identify and quantify the total number of foreign
language publications and documents issued both
internally and externally by federal government
agencies and organizations.
The GAO did find two data bases, and conducted a limited
search. The results were 265 of 400,000 documents published in
foreign languages. While that represents less than 1%, the GAO
noted that not all federal foreign language publications and
documents are included in the databases, and the 265 foreign
language documents should not be considered to be a total
number government-wide. Equally significant is that the lengths
of the documents were not discussed, nor the costs of
translating the documents. Nor was there any mention of who
decides what documents are to be printed in foreign languages.
The point is not to quibble over facts and figures but rather
to focus on the bigger policy: is America going to advocate
policies like the learning of English to empower people to
realize the American dream? Or, do we continue the trend toward
balkanization of languages, encouraging people to interact only
with those of similar backgrounds, and not assimilate into the
larger American society? For American taxpayers, key questions
become ``Where does it stop?'' and ``How many different
languages are taxpayers expected to fund?''
H.R. 123, The ``English Language Empowerment Act of 1996''
The Committee believes a new policy consisting of a common
sense, common language approach is needed. H.R. 123, the
``English Language Empowerment Act of 1996'' represents just
such an approach. The bill establishes English as the official
language of the Federal government and requires the government
to conduct its official business in English. It is the language
of government, and not the private sector. The Committee
emphasizes that the bill has no effect upon the use of foreign
languages in homes, neighborhood, churches, or private
businesses. Affirming English as the official language of
government ensures that all Americans can count on one language
for government actions, policies and documents. That is good,
common sense. And it reinforces other national policies, such
as the requirement that one be able to read, write and speak
English before becoming a United States citizen.
Not only does the bill represent good common sense, it also
empowers individuals to become successful members of American
society. It is our English language which unites us--a nation
of diverse immigrants--as one nation. It promotes assimilation,
rather than isolation and separatism. In all 50 states and the
District of Columbia, it is English and no other language which
is consistently written, spoken, and read in a widespread
manner. The same cannot be said about other languages.
As earlier alluded to, the English language is a powerful
tool. It empowers each new generation of immigrants to access
the American dream. Over and over, studies show that people who
learn English earn more for their families, are better able to
move about and interact in society, and can more easily build a
bright future for themselves and their children. In 1994, the
Texas Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs published a
study of Southeast Asian refugees in Texas. The study showed
individuals proficient in English earned more than 20 times the
annual income of those who did not speak English. Furthermore,
a 1995 study by the Latino Institute confirmed that the ability
to speak English can make the difference between a low-wage job
and high-wage managerial, professional, or technical job.
In testimony before the Subcommittee on Early Childhood,
Youth and Families, witnesses spoke first-hand about the
significance of learning English, and the need for official
English legislation. Ms. Maria Lopez-Otin, Federal liaison
officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who came to this
country at age 11 and without either parent, said,
I have been able, I believe, to participate in the
American dream * * * [my] ability to communicate in
English is the essential first step in this journey.
* * * from the immigrant's standpoint knowledge of
English is critically important to success in American
society, and discussions about immigration, bilingual
education, or English as a second language, are but
distractions from the issue at hand, the merits of
English as the official language of the United States.
And, on that point, on whatever level you consider,
education, employment, politics, a social grounding in
English is imperative. Now, does this mean rejection of
our roots, our heritage, our original language, of
course not. What it means is that as Americans we
cannot hope to reach our fullest potential unless we
speak the language, * * * and that language is English.
H.R. 123 is popular across the nation, as witness Mauro
Mujica, Chairman of the Board of U.S. English and immigrant
from Chile recently testified,
Eighty-six percent of Americans and eighty-one
percent of immigrants want to make English the official
language of this country. The vast majority of citizens
in this country are fed up with the present day
situation which has fostered linguistic welfare. * * *
Many other individuals and organizations support official
English. This legislation enjoys the strong support of the
American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, U.S. English,
English First, the National Grange, and many others.
The Committee wishes to note that some have
mischaracterized the bill as an ``English only'' bill. It's not
so. It is an ``official language of government'' bill.
``English only'' legislation is commonly understood to be
broader and more encompassing, such as the official language of
an entire nation, public and private sector--not just of
government. H.R. 123 is a more modest approach. This bill
simply designates English as the official language for actions,
documents and policies of the Federal government.
Further, the ``English only'' terminology implies English
at all times and no others. Such is not the case with this
bill. Rather, H.R. 123 provides for several exceptions to the
government conducting its official business in English. Those
include: (1) teaching of languages; (2) national security
issues or international relations, trade, or commerce; (3)
public health and safety; (4) actions, documents, or policies
that are not enforceable in the United States; (5) actions that
protect the rights of victims of crimes or criminal defendants;
(6) actions in which the United States has initiated a civil
lawsuit; (7) documents that utilize terms of art or phrases
from languages other than English; and (8) actions or documents
that facilitate the activities of the Bureau of the Census in
compiling any census of population. The bill also does not
prohibit Members of Congress or employees or officials of the
Federal government from communicating orally with other persons
in a foreign language. In sum, the most accurate description is
``official language of government,'' not ``English Only.''
During the course of the consideration of H.R. 123
questions have arisen about the impact of the bill upon the
Bilingual Education Act. The Committee notes that H.R. 123 does
not repeal the Bilingual Education Act, nor is the bill in any
way intended to affect such Act.
Other questions have arisen concerning the impact of the
bill upon immersion programs where, for example, math and
science are taught in Native Hawaiian. Assuming that Federal
officials or employees would be involved in the teaching of
such courses, the Committee believes section 168(2)(A) which
allows for the ``teaching of languages,'' addresses such
situations. Immersion programs generally involve the teaching
of languages through immersion in the language for the teaching
of all subjects. The teaching of a non-language course, such as
math, in the immersion context, inherently involves the
teaching of the language as well as the math. Accordingly, it
is the Committee's intent that such situations fall within the
exception to the English requirement.
Opponents of the English Language Empowerment Act,
including the Department of Justice, have suggested that
declaring English the official language of government would be
unconstitutional. H.R. 123 meets all federal court tests for
At the outset, the Committee notes that on many occasions
federal and state courts have held there is no right to the
publication of Federal documents in foreign languages. See e.g.
DaLomba v. Director of the Division of Employment Security, 369
Mass. 92, 334 N.E. 2d 687 (1975) (Court held that 62-year-old
Portuguese immigrant's procedural due process rights were not
violated where unemployment compensation hearing notice was
printed only in English, and she could neither read nor write
English); Soberal-Perez v. Heckler, 717 F.2d 36 (1983)
(Plaintiffs sued the Secretary of Health and Human Services
claiming the Secretary's failure to provide forms and services
in Spanish violated Hispanics' rights under the Equal
Protection Clause of the US Constitution and under Title VI of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Court held that English-only
forms did not violate Spanish-speaking plaintiffs rights under
either the Equal Protection Clause or under Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act. Secretary's action in deciding that forms
should be printed and oral instructions given in English
language bore a rational relationship to a legitimate
governmental purpose); Carmona v. Sheffield, 475 F.2d 738 (9th
Circuit 1973) (no right to employment notices in Spanish);
Toure v. United States, 24 F.3d 444 (2nd Circuit 1994) (no
right to notice of administrative seizure in French); Fronter
v. Sindell, 522 F.2d 1215 (6th Circuit 1975) (English only
civil service exams do not violate equal protection rights.
Language by itself does not identify members of a suspect
class, and therefore does not trigger strict scrutiny); Vialez
v. New York City Housing Authority, 783 F.2d 109 (S.D.N.Y.
1991) (Housing authority's failure to provide documents in
Spanish does not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or
the Fair Housing Act since ``it reflects, at most, a preference
for English over all other languages'' rather than racial or
ethnic discrimination); Garcia v. Spun Steak Co., 998 F.2d 1480
(9th Circuit 1993), cert. denied 62 U.S. L.W. 3843 (S.Ct. 6-20-
94) (employer's English-only workplace rules do not violate
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act).
In the fall of this year, the United States Supreme Court
will consider a case in which Arizona's Official English
constitutional amendment was declared unconstitutional by a
lower court. The case, now know as Arizonans for Official
English v. Arizona, Supreme Court No. 95-974, was brought by
Maria-Kelly Yniguez, an Arizona state employee who evaluated
medical malpractice claims for the state of Arizona. Yniguez
claimed Arizona state constitutional provisions which required
English and no other language to be used by state and local
government officials, was a violation of her First Amendment
rights. A 6-5 majority of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals held that the state constitutional language was overly-
broad and a violation of the First Amendment.
The Arizona provisions struck down by the court are much
different from H.R. 123. The Ninth Circuit said that its
decision only applied to the Arizona law, ``by far the most
restrictively-worded official-English law to date,'' and ``our
opinion in this case should not be construed as expressing any
view regarding'' the constitutionality of other, differently-
worded official-English laws. It is incorrect to say that the
Yniguez decision suggests that H.R. 123 is constitutionally
Aside from this one case, no court has ever struck down an
official English statute. All have been upheld. For example, as
referenced earlier, the United States Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit found no constitutional objection to government
notices in English:
``We need only glance at the role of English in our
national affairs to conclude that the Secretary's actions are
not irrational. Congress conducts its affairs in English, the
executive and judicial branches of government do likewise. In
addition those who wish to become naturalized United States
citizens must learn to read English. 8 U.S.C. 1423 (Supp. 1978)
. . . Given these factors, it is not irrational for the
Secretary to choose English as the one language in which to
conduct her official affairs.'' Soberal-Perez v. Heckler, 717
F. 2d 36, 42-43 (2d Cir. 1983), affirmed in Toure v. United
States, 24 F. 3d 444, 446 (2d Cir. 1994) (per curiam).
State courts agree. ``This is not an officially
multilingual country, and notification of official matters in
the sole official language of both this nation and this
Commonwealth is patently reasonable.'' Commonwealth v. Olivio,
369 Mass. 62, 337 N.E.2d 904,911 (1975); Castro v. California,
2 Cal 3d 223, 242; 466 P. 2d 244 (1970).
States With Official English Laws
Many states have led the way in enacting official English
laws. President Clinton, in fact, while Governor of Arkansas,
signed legislation declaring English the official language of
Arkansas. Yet, the Administration now opposes this bill, a bill
which arguably does not go as far as the Arkansas law. The
Arkansas law established English as the official language of
the state. H.R. 123, on the other hand, is more limited. It
establishes English as the official language only of the
government of the United States, not of the entire United
States. In addition to Arkansas, 22 other states have official
English laws which govern state and local matters. They are
Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia,
Hawaii (English and Hawaiian), Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North
Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming.
Nations With One Official Language
Not only have states sought to address language issues, but
nations as well. Over 79 nations from around the world have one
official language according to the ``1996 Information Please
Almanac and Resolving Language Conflicts: A Study of the
In addition, the Congressional Research Service recently
contacted the embassies of France, Germany, Japan, and Austria
and found that government documents in those countries are only
printed in one language. For the United Kingdom, both English
and Welsh are used, with Welsh serving as a second language
only for those discussions in Parliament that have to do with
issues of Wales. Similarly, both Italian and English are used
in Italy. However, the use of English is only limited to those
rare instances of publishing legal matters that pertain to the
European Union. Judging by these examples from the world of
nations, it is certainly not unreasonable for the United States
to have one official language of government as H.R. 123 would
Section 1 contains the short title of the bill, the
``English Language Empowerment Act of 1996.''
Section 2 contains the findings.
Section 3(a) amends Title 4 of the United States Code by
adding at the end a new Chapter 6, as follows:
``Section 161 declares English as the official
language of the Federal Government.''
``Section 162 states that Representatives of the
Federal Government are obligated to preserve and
enhance the role of English as the official language of
the Federal Government.''
``Section 163(a) requires Representatives of the
Federal Government to conduct its official business in
``Section 163(b) states that no person shall be
denied Federal services or assistance, directly or
indirectly, solely because the person communicates in
``Section 163(c) states that every person in the
United States is entitled to communicate with
representatives of the Federal Government in English,
to receive or give information to the Federal
government in English, and to be informed of or be
subject to official orders in English.''
``Section 164 states that a person injured by a
violation of this chapter may seek appropriate relief
in a civil action.''
``Section 165(a) states that it is long-standing
national belief that full citizenship in the United
States requires fluency in English.''
``Section 165(b) requires that all citizenship
naturalization ceremonies be conducted entirely in
``Section 166 states that the provisions of this
chapter supersede any existing Federal law that
contravenes such provisions.''
``Section 167 sets forth three rules of
``Section 168 states that nothing in the Act is to be
construed to be inconsistent with the Constitution of
the United States.''
``Section 169 includes definitions. `Official
business' is defined as governmental actions, policies
and documents, such as Federal income tax forms and
other informational materials. The definition of
official business does not extend to the following: the
teaching of languages; actions or documents that
facilitate the activities of the Census; actions,
policies or documents necessary for national security,
international relations, trade or commerce; actions or
documents that protect public health and safety;
actions that protect the rights of victims of crimes or
criminal defendants; actions in which the United States
has initiated a civil lawsuit; or documents that use
terms or art or phrases from other languages.''
``Section 169(b) contains a conforming amendment.''
Section 4 states that this Act shall not preempt State law.
Section 5 sets forth the effective date as 180 days after
the date of enactment.
Statement of Oversight Findings and Recommendations of the Committee
In compliance with clause 2(l)(3)(A) of rule XI of the
Rules of the House of Representatives and clause 2(b)(1) of
rule X of the Rules of the House of Representatives, the
Committee's oversight findings and recommendations are
reflected in the body of this report.
Inflationary Impact Statement
In compliance with clause 2(l)(4) of rule XI of the Rules
of the House of Representatives, the Committee estimates that
the enactment into law of H.R. 123 will have no significant
inflationary impact on prices and costs in the operation of the
national economy. It is the judgment of the Committee that the
inflationary impact of this legislation as a component of the
federal budget is negligible.
Government Reform and Oversight
With respect to the requirement of clause 2(l)(3)(D) of
rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives, the
Committee has received no report of oversight findings and
recommendations from the Committee on Government Reform and
Oversight on the subject of H.R. 123
Clause 7 of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of
Representatives requires an estimate and a comparison by the
Committee of the costs which would be incurred in carrying out
H.R. 123. However, clause 7(d) of that rule provides that this
requirement does not apply when the Committee has included in
its report a timely submitted cost estimate of the bill
prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office
under section 403 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
Application of Law to Legislative Branch
Section 102(b)(3) of Public Law 104-1 requires a
description of the application of this bill to the legislative
branch. This bill applies to the Federal Government and as such
applies to the Legislative Branch.
Unfunded Mandate Statement
Section 423 of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment
Control Act requires a statement of whether the provisions of
the reported bill include unfunded mandates. The Committee
received a letter regarding unfunded mandates from the Director
of the Congressional Budget Office. See infra.
The Committee received the following letters regarding this
The American Legion,
Washington, DC, July 15, 1996.
Hon. William Goodling,
Chairman, House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee,
Dear Mr. Chairman: The American Legion solidly supports
H.R. 123, ``The Language of Government Act of 1995.''
During The American Legion's 76th National Convention in
Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1994, delegates passed two
Resolutions calling for the establishment of English as the
official language of this country. (Copies of each Resolution
are attached for your reference.) This organization has been on
record since 1983 as supporting English language legislation.
Billingual education programs should serve as short-term
steps for immigrants to achieve proficiency in the English
language and should not, as these programs are now, be used to
encourage separatism. Proficiency in the English language is
not only the key to economic opportunity in the United States
but also the pathway for joining the mainstream culture of this
The American Legion supports this legislative initiative--
please inform this office if we can be of assistance.
Director, National Legislative Commission.
Resolution No. 47 (NE), 55 (NJ) and 222 (DC) using the language of 47.
Subject: The English language be declared the official United States
Whereas, The United States has over the many years been a
haven and in most cases a new home for people of many ethnic
Whereas, These people, although keeping their ethnic
background alive, were urged to take advantage of the
educational system that taught them the English language and
American history; and
Whereas, Many of preferred visitors and new citizens,
although clinging to their ethnic backgrounds did with pride
take advantage of learning the language of the United States;
Whereas, Bilingual programs funded by the Department of
Education are designed to teach students with the primary
instruction in the student's home language, while English is
subjected to a secondary status; and
Whereas, These programs tend to encourage separatism,
rather than a unification of purpose; and
Whereas, There exists alternative bilingual education
program which provide a more efficient transition to
proficiency in the English language; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, By the American Legion in National Convention
assembled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 6, 7, 8, 1994,
That The American Legion encourage legislation which would
establish English as the official national language; and, be it
Resolved, That the American Legion encourage Congress to
pass a constitutional amendment to designate English as the
official language of Government in the United States; and, be
Resolved, That the American Legion urge Congress to
encourage and fund alternative bilingual education programs to
serve as was intended, as a short intermediate step to achieve
proficiency in the English language.
Resolution No.: 371.
Subject: The English language be declared as the official U.S.
Whereas, In the United States the English language is
undergoing gradual displacement in this era of high
Whereas, While many immigrants want to learn English
because it is the key to economic opportunity in the United
States, some immigrant groups appear to minimize the English
language concept, providing little encouragement to learn
English and thereby discouraging newcomers from joining the
mainstream culture in America; and
Whereas, Bilingual education programs funded by the U.S.
Department of Education, in large, are designed to provide
long-term instruction in a student's native language, while
English is subjected to a secondary status; and
Whereas, The aforementioned programs and practices tend to
encourage separatism rather than unification of purpose; and
Whereas, The cost to all Americans would be unaccountable
to have all legal papers, ballots, court proceedings, and laws
printed in foreign languages, and dialects; and
Whereas, English has been recognized as the official
language by eighteen states that have enacted legislation or
amended their constitutions to designate it as such; now,
therefore, be it
Resolved, By The American Legion in National Convention
assembled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 6, 7, 8, 1994,
That The American Legion strongly urges that by an Act of
Congress, and acts by State legislatures, the English language
be declared the official language for Government in the United
States; and be if further
Resolved, That The American Legion should work to develop
in all Americans an appreciation for the role English plays in
holding our society together and making this Nation strong;
and, be it finally
Resolved, That The American Legion urges Congress, through
legislative action, to increase support for and fund
alternative bilingual education programs that will serve as
short-term steps for immigrants to achieve proficiency in the
Veterans of Foreign Wars
of the United States,
Washington, DC, July 16, 1996.
Hon. William F. Goodling,
Chairman, Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities,
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the
United States (VFW) has a long-standing interest in having the
English language designated as the official language of the
Government of the United States. Please note the attached copy
of VFW Resolution No. 103 that directly supports bill HR 123.
This bill, introduced by Mr. Emerson and 37 other initial
cosponsors on January 4, 1995, reflects strong bipartisan
congressional support for such action. Therefore, I ask on
behalf of the 2.1 million members of the VFW that you hold a
hearing on this bill as soon as possible and report it out
favorably to the full committee for house action before the
A big part of ongoing VFW efforts involves programs to
provide effective patriotic education programs, to include
citizenship responsibilities for schools and youth groups. We
do this by recognizing that while America is comprised of
peoples of all races, nationalities, and languages, we must all
use the English language as a common means of communication.
Our overall goal is to teach our youth that the English
language and a respect for our flag are common threads that
will allow us to remain the most prosperous and enterprising
nation in which to live as we enter the next century.
Thank you for all efforts to take favorable action on the
``Language of Government Act of 1995.'' If the VFW can be of
further support to you or your committee please let us know.
Paul A. Spera,
Commander in Chief.
Enclosure: as stated.
Resolution No. 103--Mandate English as the Official Language of the
Whereas, the people of the United States have brought to
this nation the cultural heritage of many nations; and
Whereas, the United States has been greatly enriched by
such cultural diversity; and
Whereas, the people of the United States, despite their
many differences, have lived together harmoniously and
productively as citizens of one nation; and
Whereas, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
is an association of men and women who as soldiers, sailors,
marines, airmen and nurses served this nation in wars,
campaigns and expeditions on foreign soil or in hostile waters
and air; and
Whereas, Section 713 of the National By-Laws of the
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States provides that all
VFW Posts shall conduct their meetings in no other language
than the English language; and
Whereas, the English language has always been our strongest
common bond and has contributed substantially to our social
Whereas, English is our language by custom only and enjoys
no special legal protection; and
Whereas, other languages have been promoted as alternatives
and have gained a measure of government acceptance through
bilingual education and bilingual voting ballots; and
Whereas, the erosion of English and the increased official
usage of other languages is a divisive force within our nation;
Be it resolved, by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the
United States, that we reaffirm mandates of previous
conventions to seek legislation mandating English as the
official language of the United States; and
Be it further resolved, that we seek legislation to: (1)
limit bilingual education to short term transitional programs
only; (2) effect a speedy return to voting ballots in English
only; (3) make more opportunities available to immigrants for
learning English and maintaining the English languages a
condition for naturalization; and (4) enact legal protections
for the English language, at state and national levels through
the designation of English as our official language.
The intent of this resolution is:
(1) To urge the Congress to enact legislation
mandating English as the official language of the
(2) To urge Congress to enact legislation limiting
bilingual education to short term transitional programs
only, return voting ballots to English only, make
available more opportunities to immigrants to learn
English and to maintain the English language as a
condition for naturalization.
Approved by the 96th National Convention of the Veterans of
Foreign Wars of the United States.
Catholic War Veterans of the
United States of America, Inc.,
Alexandria, VA, July 23, 1996.
Hon. Bill Goodling,
Chairman, House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, House
of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Congressman Goodling: The Catholic War Veterans of the
United States of America are hereby requesting your support for
passage of HR 123--making English the OFFICIAL LANGUAGE OF
GOVERNMENT. We have been informed that the bill will be voted
on tomorrow--July 24, 1996. Thanking you, I remain
John H. Walsh,
National Grange of the
Order of Patrons of Husbandry,
Washington, DC, July 23, 1996.
Hon. William F. Goodling,
Chairman, Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, Washington,
Dear Mr. Chairman: On behalf of the 300,000 members of the
National Grange, I want to reaffirm our support to make English
the official language of the United States. We strongly support
passage of H.R. 123, ``The Language of Government Act.''
The National Grange thanks you for your dedication to
seeking passage of the bill.
Thank you for considering the National Grange's position on
this important issue.
Kermit W. Richardson,
Master, National Grange.
Springfield, VA, July 23, 1996.
Hon. William Goodling,
Chairman, Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, U.S.
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Chairman Goodling: English First is pleased to endorse
Congressman Cunningham's Committee Substitute version of H.R.
123, the Language of Government Act.
A nation as diverse as ours requires a common language to
preserve its national unity. The Committee Substitute version
of H.R. 123 has been carefully crafted to protect individual
rights and liberties while ensuring that the government of the
United States functions in English.
The Committee Substitute reflects a consensus of the views
of key leaders on this issue, such as former Senate Majority
Leader Bob Dole, Congressman Toby Roth (Chairman of the
Congressional English Language Task Force), Congressman Peter
King, Congressman John Porter and the late Bill Emerson.
The need for a national language policy is all too apparent
when we contemplate how national linguistic divisions soon lead
to other divisions. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is a
cautionary lesson in the dangers of official multilingualism.
The Committee Substitute version of H.R. 123 is an
important first step toward repairing our national unity and
preserving America as a nation of immigrants.
Jim Boulet, Jr.,
U.S. English, Inc.,
Washington, DC, July 23, 1996.
Hon. William Goodling,
Chairman, House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities,
Dear Chairman Goodling: On behalf of the 800,000 members of
U.S. ENGLISH, the nation's largest, non-partisan, non-profit,
citizens' action group dedicated to preserving the unifying
role of the English language in the United States, I would like
to declare to the House Committee on Economic and Educational
Opportunities our organization's ardent support for H.R. 123,
The Language of Government Act.
Through language policy has historically not been a matter
of great public concern in the United States, the last twenty
to twenty-five years have witnessed a growing interest in this
topic. From the mid-19th century until recently, a strong sense
existed in the United States that non-English speaking people
should--and would--ultimately learn English and that even those
language enclaves which did establish themselves would adopt
English as a primary language within a few generations. As a
result, little official concern for, or attention to, the
designation of an official language policy seemed necessary.
However, in the last quarter-century, the notion of America
as a melting pot has been challenged. A body of government
policies and practices has evolved piecemeal, based on the goal
of protecting ethnic and cultural diversity, with little
attention paid to the question of what the optimal overall
language policy for the United States ought to be.
The very implementation of these policies, which have been
costly both financially and socially, has brought an immediacy
to the need for an official language policy. Further, there is
a growing perception in America or linguistic instability,
compounded by the close-to-home Canadian example of bilingual
conflict. We feel that by promoting a common language, the
government will encourage unity, political stability, and
The intent of our organization is to enact a government
language policy that will empower immigrants to gain
proficiency in English to allow them to fully take advantage of
the economic opportunities that are only available in this
country. H.R. 123 is a proactive measure intended to avert the
proliferation of costly multi-language government policies and
practices. To give an indication of the problems currently
facing the government as a result of having no official
language policy, consider the following question: If Spanish-
speaking persons can demand general bilingual programs, or can
demand Spanish versions of Social Security forms, would that
not entitle members of smaller language groups, such as Greeks
or French, have a similar right to forms or services in their
The time has come to put an end to the syphoning of crucial
budget dollars for the wasteful practice of multi-lingual
government, and to put the focus back where it belongs:
teaching citizens English.
Mauro E. Mujica,
Chairman of the Board/CEO.
Hungarian Reformed Federation of America,
Washington, DC, July 24, 1996.
Hon. Bill Goodling,
Chairman, House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities,
Dear Sir: The Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, a
fraternal life insurance society organized in Trenton, New
Jersey, in 1896, is in full support of the goals and
initiatives of the official English language policies with
specific regard to H.R. 123, the Official Language of
Government Act, sponsored by the late Bill Emerson of Missouri.
General Federation of Women's Clubs,
Washington, DC, July 24, 1996.
Hon. Bill Goodling,
Chairman, House Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities,
Dear Chairman Goodling: On behalf of the General Federation
of Women's Clubs (GFWC), I would like to express appreciation
to you for holding today's hearing on the Official Language
Government Act (H.R. 123). As a long-time supporter of
legislation to make English the official language of the United
States, GFWC wholeheartedly supports your committee's
consideration and Congress' adoption of H.R. 123.
Throughout history, the United States of America has been
enriched by the cultural contributions of immigrants from many
diverse traditions. Also, it has been blessed with one common
language (English) which has united a diverse nation and
fostered harmony among its people. In recognition of all that
has made this country great, GFWC urges federal action to
protect our nation's language.
For more than 100 years, GFWC members have met the most
pressing needs of the country's communities through volunteer
service. With its broad-based network of community activists,
GFWC has marshalled resources successfully to tackle the issues
that affect the lives of women, children and families.
Thank you again for your and the committee's attention to
Faye Z. Dissinger,
Budget Authority and Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate
With respect to the requirement of clause 2(l)(3)(B) of
rule XI of the House of Representatives and section 308(a) of
the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and with respect to
requirements of clause 2(l)(3)(C) of rule XI of the House of
Representatives and section 403 of the Congressional Budget Act
of 1974, the Committee has received the following cost estimate
for H.R. 123 from the Director of the Congressional Budget
Congressional Budget Office,
Washington, DC, July 30, 1996.
Hon. William F. Goodling,
Chairman, Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, House of
Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has
reviewed H.R. 123, the English Language Empowerment Act of
1996, as ordered reported by the House Committee on Economic
and Educational Opportunities on July 24, 1996. Because H.R.
123 could affect direct spending, pay-as-you-go procedures
would apply. However, CBO estimates that enacting this
legislation would not significantly affect the federal budget.
Bill purpose.--H.R. 123 would declare English as the
official language of the federal government and require that
representatives of the federal government conduct official
business--including issuing forms, publications, and
informational materials--in English. The bill would allow
representatives of the federal government to communicate orally
in a language other than English while performing official
business. The bill would exclude from the English-only
requirement the teaching of languages, the activities of the
U.S. Census Bureau, and governmental actions necessary for
national security, international trade or relations, public
health and safety, and the protection of the rights of victims
of crimes or criminal defendants. The bill's provisions would
not apply to the territories of the United States.
Federal budgetary impact.--CBO expects that H.R. 123 would
decrease some costs while increasing others. On the one hand,
requiring that agencies print forms, publications, and
informational material in English only could reduce certain
costs. Agencies would probably print the same amount of forms,
but would not have to incur the cost of translating English
documents. On the other hand, other costs could increase if the
requirement of English-only forms results in agencies
substituting more expensive oral translation services for
information in writing. The net change in costs would depend on
how agencies interpret the bill's exemptions, particularly for
activities that are in the interest of public health and
safety. According to a review by the General Accounting Office
only about 0.06 percent of federal documents are in a language
other than English. Thus, CBO expects that the bill would have
little effect on the federal government. Further, if agencies
interpret the bill's exemption for public health and safety to
include programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid, the effect
would be even smaller.
H.R. 123 would provide standing to sue the federal
government if an individual were denied services, assistance,
or facilities solely because the individual communicates in
English. CBO estimates that any increase in direct spending
that might arise from such potential lawsuits would not be
Impact on State, local, and tribal governments.--H.R. 123
contains no intergovernmental mandates as defined in the
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-4).
Because the federal government would no longer provide many
bilingual forms if this bill is enacted, states who administer
federal programs (Food Stamps and Medicaid, for example) could
incur additional costs if they choose to provide translation
services to individual in need of such assistance.
Impact on the private sector.--H.R. 123 would impose a new
private-sector mandate, as defined in Public Law 104-4, by
requiring that all official business of the federal government
be conducted in English. That provision would effectively
require the private sector, which includes non-English-speaking
individuals, to conduct all official transactions with the
federal government in English.
To the extent that official business between the federal
government and the private sector is now conducted in languages
other than English, H.R. 123 would impose new costs on the
private sector. Official federal government business, however,
is conducted overwhelmingly in English. Consequently, the new
mandate should not impose a substantial burden on the private
sector as a whole. Nevertheless, some non-English-speaking
individuals could face significant hurdles to completing
official business with the federal government--particularly
with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security
Administration (SSA)--and would be required to obtain an
interpreter. I most cases, translation services would be
provided free of charge or at minimal cost by volunteer
organizations, or bilingual federal workers or the English-
literate family members of non-English-speaking persons would
act as interpreters. Thus, CBO estimates that the direct cost
of complying with the new private-sector mandate contained in
the bill would be below the $100 million threshold.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contacts are John R.
Righter (for federal costs), Marc Nicole (for the state and
local impact), and Matthew Eyles (for the private-sector
June E. O'Neill, Director.
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported
In compliance with clause 3 of rule XIII of the Rules of
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (new matter is
printed in italic and existing law in which no change is
proposed is shown in roman):
TITLE 4, UNITED STATES CODE
* * * * * * *
Language of the Federal Government.............................161
* * * * * * *
CHAPTER 6--LANGUAGE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government
162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language
163. Official Federal Government activities in English
165. Reform of naturalization requirements
167. Rule of construction
168. Affirmation of constitutional protections
Sec. 161. Declaration of official language of Federal Government
The official language of the Federal Government is English.
Sec. 162. Preserving and enhancing the role of the official language
Representatives of the Federal Government shall have an
affirmative obligation to preserve and enhance the role of
English as the official language of the Federal Government.
Such obligation shall include encouraging greater opportunities
for individuals to learn the English language.
Sec. 163. Official Federal Government activities in English
(a) Conduct of Business.--Representatives of the Federal
Government shall conduct its official business in English.
(b) Denial of Services.--No person shall be denied services,
assistance, or facilities, directly or indirectly provided by
the Federal Government solely because the person communicates
(c) Entitlement.--Every person in the United States is
(1) to communicate with representatives of the
Federal Government in English;
(2) to receive information from or contribute
information to the Federal Government in English; and
(3) to be informed of or be subject to official
orders in English.
Sec. 164. Standing
A person injured by a violation of this chapter may in a
civil action (including an action under chapter 151 of title
28) obtain appropriate relief.
Sec. 165. Reform of naturalization requirements
(a) Fluency.--It has been the longstanding national belief
that full citizenship in the United States requires fluency in
English. English is the language of opportunity for all
immigrants to take their rightful place in society in the
(b) Ceremonies.--All authorized officials shall conduct all
naturalization ceremonies entirely in English.
Sec. 166. Application
Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the provisions
of this chapter shall supersede any existing Federal law that
contravenes such provisions (such as by requiring the use of a
language other than English for official business of the
Sec. 167. Rule of construction
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed--
(1) to prohibit a Member of Congress or an employee
or official of the Federal Government, while performing
official business, from communicating orally with
another person in a language other than English;
(2) to discriminate against or restrict the rights of
any individual in the country; and
(3) to discourage or prevent the use of languages
other than English in any nonofficial capacity.
Sec. 168. Affirmation of constitutional protections
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to be inconsistent
with the Constitution of the United States.
Sec. 169. Definitions
For purposes of this chapter:
(1) Federal government.--The term ``Federal
Government'' means all branches of the national
Government and all employees and officials of the
national Government while performing official business.
(2) Official business.--The term ``official
business'' means governmental actions, documents, or
policies which are enforceable with the full weight and
authority of the Federal Government, and includes
publications, income tax forms, and informational
materials, but does not include--
(A) teaching of languages;
(B) actions, documents, or policies necessary
(i) national security issues; or
(ii) international relations, trade,
(C) actions or documents that protect the
public health and safety;
(D) actions or documents that facilitate the
activities of the Census;
(E) actions, documents, or policies that are
not enforceable in the United States;
(F) actions that protect the rights of
victims of crimes or criminal defendants;
(G) actions in which the United States has
initiated a civil lawsuit; or
(H) documents that utilize terms of art or
phrases from languages other than English.
(3) United states.--The term ``United States'' means
the several States and the District of Columbia.
[T]he protection of the Constitution extends to all, to
those who speak other languages as well as to those born with
English on the tongue. Perhaps it would be advantageous if all
had ready understanding of our ordinary speech, but this cannot
be coerced by methods which conflict with the Constitution--a
desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means.\1\
\1\ Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).
hasty consideration of h.r. 123
No hearing addressing this specific bill were ever held
before a subcommittee or Full Committee; nor was the
legislation marked-up and fully debated at the subcommittee
level. Now, the bill has been hastily scheduled for Floor
consideration. Given the enormity of constitutional and
practical problems with this bill, the Republican Majority
should be embarrassed by its rushed and careless consideration
of this measure.
h.r. 123 is utterly unnecessary, non-sensical, and dangerous
We agree that learning English should be a priority for all
persons residing in the United States. In fact, there is
extremely high demand for English language classes. Unlike most
Members of the Republican Majority, we Democrats are committed
to the expansion of Federal support for ``English as the Second
Language'' and for Bilingual Education programs.
As a practical matter, the American people recognize
English as the primary and common language of the United
States. According to the 1990 Census, 97% of the people in the
United States speak English at least well. And, according to
the General Accounting Office, more than 99.9 percent of all
Federal documents and publications published during the 1990-
1995 period were in English.
Languages other than English are very rarely used in
official government business. When invoked, they further often
critical and indispensable government interests.
Our Republican colleagues characterize H.R. 123 as ``common
sense'' legislation. What is sensible about a bill that
mandates such exclusive use of English but utterly fails to
address the practical need for adequate English-language
H.R. 123 is not a mere declaration of ``English as the
official language of the United States.'' It is hopelessly
vague and ambiguous legislation. It is unnecessary legislation;
a legislative solution in search of a problem. It is
unconstitutional legislation, on many grounds. And it is mean-
spirited, morally wrong, and dangerously divisive.
Hearings held last Fall before the Committee on Early
Childhood, Youth and Families on this issue were inconclusive,
with both Democrats and Republicans raising concerns about the
need and the justification for the ``English-Only'' or
``English First'' proposals. WHY IS THIS BILL MOVING NOW? With
such limited time remaining on the legislative calendar of the
104th Congress, the Republican Majority has chosen to engage in
the politics of division and marginalization of our language
minority residents. Instead of truly empowering people in the
use of English by ensuring that adequate funds are made
available for English-as-a-second language classes, the
Republican Majority has directed its attention to ``protecting
the English language'' as though it were under some bizarre
attack by other languages.
impact of h.r. 123 on language minority groups
H.R. 123 defies our heritage of tolerance and respect for
linguistic diversity. Throughout its history, the United States
has been enriched by its linguistically diverse population. At
the time of our nation's Independence, English was spoken along
with German, Dutch, French, native American, and other
The restrictions imposed by H.R. 123 are antithetical to
its purported objectives. Immigrants themselves recognize that
in order to better their own lot, and that of their families,
learning English is imperative. New arrivals to our shores
flood the far too few ``English as a Second Language'' classes
held across the country. In Washington, D.C., 5,000 immigrants
were turned away from English classes in the 1994 school year.
In New York City, schools have had to resort to a lottery to
determine enrollment. In Los Angeles, more than 40,000
applicants remain on waiting lists for English classes.
Ironically, official English laws and proposals do nothing
to increase resources needed to provide English instruction. By
restricting the Federal Government's ability to communicate
with, and provide services to, non-English speaking Americans
(many of whom are children and the elderly) H.R. 123 would
inhibit and deny fair and equal access to such basic and
fundamental services as voting assistance, education, social
security, and police protection.
We are extremely concerned about the effects of the
legislation on Americans who speak over 150 non-English
languages that are native to our country and more than 100
other languages that span the globe.
The 1990 U.S. Census found that 31.8 million persons age 5
years and older spoke a language other than English (14% of the
total population). Further, that census reported that 6.7
million persons age 5 years and older indicated that they spoke
English ``not well'' or ``not at all'' (3% of the total
h.r. 123 will create a sweeping, ill-defined federal mandate and
promote government inefficiency
H.R. 123 would engender a monstrous Federal mandate in a
new area of Federal regulation. The legislation's mandate that
the Federal government ``preserve and enhance the role of
English as the official language of the Federal Government''
clearly is overbroad and vague.
H.R. 123 would hamper the basic functions of Government and
compromise its effectiveness. As our colleague Delegate Romero-
Barcelo (D-PR) noted, during consideration of his amendment to
exempt the bill in cases where government efficiency would be
furthered, the Department of Justice has warned that:
[P]assage of H.R. 123 would decrease administrative
efficiency and exclude Americans who are not fully
proficient in English from education, employment,
voting, and equal participation in our society. In
these fiscally difficult times, government efficiency
and economy would better be promoted by allowing
government agencies to continue their limited use of
other languages to execute their duties effectively.
We are confounded that the Republican Majority touts a bill
that will obstruct such basic government functions as tax
collection, disaster preparation, water and resource
conservation, and execution of civil and criminal laws and
regulations. What logical public policy could this bill
h.r. 123 is constitutionally suspect
This Fall, the United States Supreme Court will hear the
case of Yniguez v. Arizonans for Official English. In 1988, the
citizens of Arizona narrowly passed a ballot referendum
amending the Arizona constitution to declare English the
official language of the State. The referendum mandated that
all government business, with few exceptions, be conducted only
The plaintiff, Marie Kelley Yniguez, a bilingual Latina
employee of the Arizona Department of Administration, filed
suit to enjoin the State's implementation of the pertinent
article of Arizona's constitution on the grounds that the
provision violated, among other things, the First and
Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. A Federal
district court found the pertinent article facially overbroad
under the First Amendment. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court
of appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed the lower court's
The Republican Majority claims that ``Arizona provisions
struck down by the court are much different from H.R. 123.'' To
the contrary, we find the Arizona law legally indistinguishable
from H.R. 123 as reported by the Committee. The Majority's
effort to rest the constitutionality of H.R. 123 on a scattered
collection of Federal and State court rulings is unpersuasive.
The legal crux of the cases relied on by the Majority addresses
the question of whether non-English speakers have an
affirmative right to compel government to provide information
in a language they understand. One of the major constitutional
questions raised by H.R. 123 is whether the Federal Government
may restrict the official speech of Federal officials.
These are two quite different legal issues. In light of the
upcoming decision by the United States Supreme Court in the
Yniquez litigation, the actions of this committee with regard
to this legislation are premature.
effect of h.r. 123 is unclear concerning bilingual education programs
We remain concerned about the impact of H.R. 123 on the
Bilingual Education Act. Although the Majority states in its
views that its intent is to except bilingual education from the
bill, we remain wary that the text of the legislation does not
provide sufficient legislative shelter. Providing such
protection is a simple drafting matter. Resort to ambiguous
Committee report language is, at best, confusing.
h.r. 123 would generate frivolous litigation
Throughout the 104th Congress, the Republican Majority has
endeavored to ``reform'' product liability and tort law for the
ostensible purpose of eliminating frivolous lawsuits.
Therefore, we are mystified by sections of H.R. 123 that
create an ``entitlement'' to English-only communication and
that grant a private cause of action for persons claiming
injury by non-English government communication. These
provisions are among this ``maddening'' bill's most outrageous
aspects. Why in the world would the Republican Majority want to
clog Federal courts with such meddlesome litigation? And why
should Congress chill the activities of government officials
that further efficient and effective governance?
h.r. 123 undermines law enforcement and ignores new means of
Simply put, this legislation is weak on crime. The
operations of such Federal agencies as the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would
be impaired by the implementation of H.R. 123. Much of the work
done by the FBI to combat multi-national organized crime and
much of the activity of the DEA to win the war against drugs is
carried out in non-English languages at a time where neither a
victim or a defendant is identifiable. The exemption providing
that non-English languages may be used for reasons of ``public
safety'' or to ``protect the rights of victims of crimes or
criminal defendants'' is virtually useless.
In addition, the legislation makes no exception for such
means of communication as electronic mail and broadcast media,
and raises questions of censorship in an era of high speed
computers, cyberspace, and the global economy. The Federal
Government regulates telecommunications and grants, sells, and
regulates broadcast licenses. The Federal Government operates
Internet servers. H.R. 123 seems to have been drafted in a
technological and historical vacuum.
H.R. 123 Jeopardizes Relations with Native Americans
The United States has long recognized that Indian tribes
possess attributes of sovereignty. Congress has enacted
numerous statuses that affirm this principle. By repealing
these statutes, H.R. 123 would impede severely Federal
Government relations with Native Americans.
Protecting and perpetuating Indian languages is essential
to the preservation of Indian culture. We are concerned that
implementing an English-only policy on Indian reservations will
hinder the survival of the Navajo and other native languages.
Today, all Indian languages are threatened. Of the 155 Indian
languages still spoken in the United States, only 20 are now
spoken by Indian children. The Navajo Nation is among the 20
nations whose children still speak their native language. The
Navajo Nation, and all other Indian nations, have experienced
firsthand the effects of government-sanctioned English-only
policies. Past policies to ``assimilate'' Indian children
condoned physical and spiritual punishment of children who
spoke their native language. Many Navajos can still recall
being beaten and punished for speaking their language. Many
Navajo parents fear that their children will be punished in
similar ways should a move toward reenacting such policies
Effect on Puerto Rico
We are greatly concerned about the impact of this bill on
American citizens of Puerto Rico. Nearly 4 million people
reside in Puerto Rico, many of whom do not speak English as a
first language or are not completely proficient in English.
This bill would impose a barrier between the people of Puerto
Rico and the Federal government, if agencies which serve Puerto
Ricans are prohibited from conducting business in Spanish.
Although English is already the language in which the Federal
courts and Federal agencies operate in Puerto Rico, verbal and
written communication in Spanish has facilitated the
administration of Federal laws and policies in Puerto Rico and
enables citizens to be fully informed of their rights and
responsibilities. It is entirely unclear whether the bill
allows Federal government entitles in Puerto Rico to conduct
business in Spanish.
English Plus--A Balanced, Unifying Approach
At Full Committee, we Democrats unanimously embraced an
amendment offered by Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) that
views the diversity of our Nation, its people, its language,
its culture, as something to celebrate, not something to fear
and resist. The Becerra amendment recognized that, throughout
our Nation's history, multilingualism has better protected us
in war, furthered our ability to communicate among ourselves
and with the rest of the world, and enhanced our
competitiveness in the global marketplace. In the end, the
Becerra amendment simply and eloquently stated that our
national policies should continue to promote such benefits of
We Democrats share a commitment to English language
learning and also to multilingualism. Our government should
facilitate both objectives.
We urge the full House to reject H.R. 123.
William L. Clay.
Dale E. Kildee.
Matthew G. Martinez.
Patsy T. Mink.
Major R. Owens.
Donald M. Payne.
Robert E. Andrews.
Lynn C. Woolsey.