To me, Arizona is like an incredibly gifted and interesting kid with low self-esteem. The state has a lot going for it on its own that would make most people want to visit and like it. It’s got the Grand Canyon along with a bunch of other beautiful national parks, it’s one part of the Four Corners states, it has great ski resorts, and a rich history. Yet for some reason, much like the aforementioned low self-esteem child, it thinks the only way to get attention is by acting out.
Seriously, first it tries to pass that cockamamie immigration law, SB 1070, that would have required every alien to constantly carry around their papers. And now there’s a town in the state that’s trying to keep a person off a seat for city council due to her less-than-basic English skills. Hmm, okay, maybe that latter cry for attention isn’t all that unreasonable. But still, it makes you want to just shake the state and tell it to love itself.
But seriously, for real this time, San Luis, a small town in Arizona, has recently made some waves in the media over some controversy with the town city council elections. A candidate by the name of Alejandrina Cabrera, a native Spanish speaker, wants to run for a spot on the council, but was blocked in court by the city’s mayor, Juan Carlos Escamilla. Escamilla claims that Cabrera isn’t qualified to serve on the council because her English skills aren’t up to snuff. Though he also admits his own English isn’t perfect, he asserts Cabrera’s English shortcomings are severe enough to be a hindrance to her governing abilities.
Cabrera has conceded that her English isn’t great and a linguist’s report shows her to only possess “basic survival level” English, but she argues that in a town like San Luis this is sufficient. She might have a point as the town only has about 25,000 residents, is mostly bilingual, and sits right on the U.S.-Mexico border. As it stands right now, the Court must decide whether or not to strike Cabrera from the ballot come election time.
It’s worth noting that many states have laws requiring citizens in political position to be able to speak English, and not surprisingly Arizona also has such a law in place. The issue is that many of these states, including Arizona, don’t really specify how much English a person needs to know in order to be considered able to speak English. It might sound like a trivial detail, but as you can see in Cabrera’s case, it’s quite literally her whole case. As Arizona’s law sits today, there’s not much guidance in this area, only a general provision. About the only good thing about this situation is that the story serves as a great jumping point for how an English-requirement law should be written and whether or not it should even exist.
But before we get to that, it’s worth noting that many people think this law is discriminatory, and should be a form of illegal governmental discrimination. However, that’s simply not the case under the Constitution; states are given a general police power under the Tenth Amendment that allows them to legislate for the general welfare of the state’s citizens. Furthermore, it’s long been established by the U.S. Supreme Court that both state and federal governments can establish basic requirements that must be fulfilled if one is to take a leadership position in our government. And setting a language requirement is certainly within both the federal and state government’s rights.
Now that that’s out of the way, back to solving the English requirement issue. I don’t know about you guys, but I think figuring out how proficient someone is in English was already solved a long time ago by the Department of Education. The answer is simple: standardized testing. It doesn’t even have to be university level, just the basic ESL test given to all foreign students is sufficient to determine how proficient a prospective candidate is in English.
I don’t know why these legislators never thought about including something like this before in their state laws. In order to establish one’s fluency in English for political office, that candidate must be able to pass an ESL test. If they do, then they can run for the government position. And to avoid any Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection issues, make the test applicable to all candidates running. Even the native speaker – everyone has to pass it. Simple, right? I think so.
But the bigger issue here is whether an English requirement for political office should even exist. Technically our country has no official language, despite the prevalence of English. We are a country of immigrants after all and we were founded on the principle of equality. In that sense, why require anyone to speak English at all? However, we can’t deny the reality that most everyone in this country speaks English and therefore in order for one to be an effective leader here, that candidate must be able to communicate with the people in this country in the language that the majority speaks.
Ultimately, I think this is too big of a question to answer . . . on my own that is. English as America’s official language has always been a contentious subject. So I leave this question’s answer to you, dear readers? What do you think about the English requirement? Nay or yea?