President Bush’s May 19 radio address on the Senate’s immigration bill was typical of the many recent White House tributes to the importance of English:
This legislation will also strengthen our efforts to help new immigrants assimilate. The key to unlocking the full promise of America is the ability to speak English. This bill affirms that English is the language of the United States. And it provides new opportunities for immigrants to learn English and embrace the shared ideals that bind us as a nation.
Unfortunately, this rhetoric is just so much hot air. If an illegal immigrant has not learned English, it is not because he has lacked the “opportunity” to do so. It might have something to do, however, with the fact that he has no need to — not even to apply for the amnesty that Bush is trying to defend. So let’s clarify some things about the nature of the English requirements in this immigration bill.
‐ English is the language of the United States, except when it isn’t.
Section 702 of the bill states:
(b) … Nothing herein shall diminish or expand any existing rights under the laws of the United States relative to services or materials provided by the Government of the United States in any language other than English.
(c) Definition: For the purposes of this section, law is defined as including provisions of the United States Constitution, the United States Code, controlling judicial decisions, regulations, and Presidential Executive Orders.
This means that bilingual education continues, bilingual ballots continue, and, worst of all, Clinton Executive Order 13166 will be codified as the law of the land.
E.O. 13166 requires all recipients of federal funds to provide, upon request, all information and services in whatever language a person wants. E.O. 13166 would also apply to applicants for the Z (amnesty) visa. This means every single illegal alien who wishes to apply for amnesty may do so in any language of his choice.
‐ There is no requirement that an illegal alien learn even a word of English before he can apply for amnesty.
White House staffer Kerrie Rushton claimed in “The Corner” last Friday that, included among the requirements for illegal aliens “to obtain a Z visa” was “agree[ing] to meet accelerated English and civics requirements.” That is false.
As for obtaining a Z visa, the bill states that “to be eligible for Z nonimmigrant status an alien shall meet the following and any other applicable requirements set forth in this section.” Those requirements are: (1) be physically present, (2) be here illegally, (3) be currently employed on the date of applying, (4) pay a processing fee of “no more than” $1,500, (5) pay a $1,000 penalty, (6) pay a $500 “state impact assistance fee,” (7) “appear to be interviewed” (not specified if in person or by telephone), and (8) be registered for the Military Selective Service, if of the required age.
There are certain English requirements for renewing a Z visa, which brings us to the next point.
‐ Illegal aliens are required to demonstrate merely a modest knowledge of English — eight years after they first obtain amnesty.
As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (almost accurately) explained to the press on May 17: “They’ll have to learn English at the end of year eight.”
After eight years, Z visa holders will be allowed three tries to pass the “naturalization test,” whose English requirements are set by current law at an “elementary literacy level.”
‐Page 280 of the bill, section (q), requires that information about the Z visa “be broadly disseminated, in no fewer than the top five principal languages, as determined by the Secretary in his discretion, spoken by aliens … including to television, radio, and print media to which such aliens would have access.”
‐Pages 240-241 of the bill describe the new point-system for “merit based immigrants”: English fluency earns, at maximum, 15 points; having “worked in agriculture for five years” earns 25 points.
‐Anything regarding the requirements for amnesty passed by this Congress can be undone by any future Congress. Given that the Senate immigration bill might mean 12 million, 20 million, or even more new citizens, who knows what future politicians might do to further endear themselves to the vastly increased “Hispanic vote”?
Even the modest English requirements asked of today’s illegal aliens will not kick in until eight years after the amnesty visas and Social Security numbers have been distributed. Eight years is an eternity in American politics. A future president just might decide that his political future would benefit if he could bless 20 million people with American citizenship, no questions asked.
‐ The Inhofe amendment would remedy at least some of this mess.
Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.) plans to offer an amendment to the immigration bill removing its codification of Clinton Executive Order 13166. (Full disclosure: the Inhofe amendment was endorsed by English First then and now.) The Inhofe amendment passed the Senate last year, 62-35. (The initial vote was 63-34, but Senator Mary Landrieu (D., La.) officially changed her vote for “yea” to “nay” one week after the vote.)
If the Bush Administration wants to prove it means what it is saying about assimilating today’s immigrants, President Bush should repeal Clinton Executive Order 13166 — he can do it with a stroke of the pen. As for why he hasn’t already done this, he could easily say that he received bad advice earlier (which he certainly did, as I documented here and here). Another trust-building gesture would be for the White House to stop playing games regarding the border fence.
Too many people believe — understandably — that Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and the National Council of La Raza are deciding America’s immigration policies. President Bush should strongly consider putting the Senate bill in a deep freeze and starting over, with more advice from his friends.
– Jim Boulet Jr. is executive director of English First.