MALDEF recognizes that learning English is critical to participating in, contributing to, and succeeding in American society. However, English-only and Official English laws do nothing constructive to advance the important goal of English proficiency. Instead, such laws are discriminatory and carry with them the potential to jeopardize the health, safety, and well-being not only of English Language Learners (ELLs), but of our communities as a whole. Laws that interfere with or undermine the government’s ability to communicate quickly and effectively are simply bad public policy.
Official English and English-only policies are founded upon the myth that the primacy of the English language is somehow under threat. In fact, more than 92% of our country’s population speaks English, and by wide margins, Latinos believe that learning English is essential for participation and success in American society. There is simply no “problem” that English-only laws can “fix.” Indeed, Latino immigrants today are learning English as quickly as or at a faster rate than previous generations of immigrants.
The desire and determination to learn English already runs deep in the Latino community. What is needed are the means and the opportunity. Unfortunately, ELLs are too often hampered in their efforts to achieve full proficiency by educational, economic, and bureaucratic forces beyond their control.
As a result, MALDEF drafted and developed a legislative plan for Congressional passage of an English language acquisition and integration package. In July 2008, The Strengthening Communities through English and Integration Act was introduced by U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and was co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). For the 111th Congress, MALDEF anticipates reintroduction of this bi-partisan legislation and is building a broad coalition of business, religious, and civil rights organizations in support of the package.
In addition, MALDEF held a Senate briefing on language rights to educate Congressional leadership and staff, the media, and the community on the primary issues affecting successful integration for immigrant communities. MALDEF co-authored a briefing book that details a comprehensive agenda (see below).