— Alexis de Tocqueville
Since our nation’s founding, countless millions of immigrants have forged new identities as Americans and succeeded in their new homeland by learning English and adopting our civic and cultural values. Now, in the midst of the largest wave of immigration in our history, we must not let this precious gift of unity — our common tongue — slip away.
The latest example of how English is undermined comes by way of the Atlanta Regional Commission. To achieve a so-called “certification of excellence” in order “to gain more benefits,” according to ARC spokeswoman Julie Ralston, the ARC advises counties and cities to provide multilingual services in key government operations for non-English speakers.
First, some background. Georgia requires metro counties and cities to achieve “qualified local government status.” To obtain that distinction, the ARC forged a regional plan that coordinates growth in Cobb County and the nine other counties it serves. The Marietta Daily Journal found that three years after the ARC approves the regional plan, communities must come into compliance — and they have until January 2014 to turn in proposals showing how they are complying.
This time, however, ARC bureaucrats are giving governments an option: apply for “minimum certification” or “excellence certification.” It is the “excellence” certification that includes the multilingualism program.
ARC Chairman Tad Leithead of Cobb County, who at first claimed he didn’t know much about the issue, eventually told this writer that the multilingual requirement is part of a “menu” that can be chosen or not.
The ARC spokeswoman, after conferring with colleagues, later said that the opportunity to obtain grants and loans would not be affected if a city or county chose “minimal” or “excellence” certification.
Interesting. Is this backpedaling by the ARC the result of last week’s MDJ story that brought the ARC’s policy to light?
The ARC spokeswoman also gave this writer a sob story of how non-English speakers need to be helped. Yes, they do deserve help and compassion — yet they have traditionally gotten it from a support system of family, friends, faith and private agencies that provide translation assistance in all sorts of situations.
There are dozens of languages spoken in Georgia and more than 300 languages spoken in this country. Providing taxpayer-supported translators and multilingual materials would be a huge burden for government. Besides, if you become a citizen or legal permanent resident, the basic requirement is to know English.
There could hardly be an example in a democratic society of a more unpopular policy being imposed on the majority by a minority of ideologically-driven activists and unelected bureaucrats. That is why Georgia and 30 other states have had to pass laws designating English as the official language of government operations. Yet the ARC’s half-baked multilingual idea blatantly undercuts Georgia’s law!
Furthermore, the ARC hasn’t considered that accommodating some foreign languages and not others is discriminatory. The only way for a city or county to make it non-discriminatory is to communicate in one unifying tongue — English — to avoid the growing practice in some areas of favoring a select few immigrant languages over others.
By the way, a recent Rasmussen poll found 87 percent of respondents from all ethnic backgrounds support English as the official language of government. Let’s also remember that government has traditionally played an important role in encouraging the assimilation of new immigrants by communicating with them in English. Why change that successful model?
The ARC’s multilingual “option” is a reversal of the melting pot tradition by making it attractive to foster communication with non-English speaking persons.
English is the undisputed language of success in the United States, and Census data underscores that the number of English-learner families living in poverty is about twice the national rate. Lacking fluency in English traps non-English speakers in low-skilled, low-wage jobs and keeps them heavily reliant on taxpayer-funded government programs.
Metro Atlanta cities and counties should reject the ARC’s siren promotion of multilingualism — even if the ARC promises “more benefits” if they go that route.
Phil Kent of Sandy Springs is a panelist on WAGA-TV’s “The Georgia Gang” and a board member of ProEnglish.