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Calumet County considers making English its official language

  • Post Crescent editorial

  • Tue 19-Dec-2000 
    Calumet County turns a deaf ear to citizens' voices

    This is the question the Calumet County Board must consider today when it weighs in on a recommendation to make English the county's official language. The recommendation comes from the county's Salary and Personnel Committee, led by Alice Connors. In addition to the county, the resolution encourages the state and the nation to make the adoption of English as the official language of government the 28th Amendment of the Constitution.

    The suggestion uses the broad notion of practical economic policy to sweeten what amounts to self-serving rhetoric that draws its line between the races.

    Yes, the resolution includes language to allow exemptions if officials show that there is a clear impact to the health, justice, safety and (not or) welfare of the public. The exemption is allowed only after approval of the County Board or county administrator. Exclusion could be lifted only through a micro-managing system of exemptions.

    Where are the documents the county is publishing that do not have a clear impact to the health, justice, safety or welfare of the public? What duties of the county government are reserved for English-speaking residents alone?

    English is a complex language, one of the most difficult to learn, particularly as an adult. It can take several years or more to become fluent in reading, writing and speaking English, longer if the proper educational tools and social support are lacking.

    Imagine trying to learn the thousands of characters of Kanji, the written language used in Japan and China. Even after several years of intense study, proficiency would be tenuous, and should not be tested on critical legal or governmental documents.

    Connors makes the comment that the committee agreed that if people wanted to immigrate here, they should learn the language. A practical conclusion, that anyone coming to a new country would try to assimilate into his or her surroundings. There exist many social and financial incentives to do so. But how is that position in conflict with cooperating with people who have yet to become proficient in English, particularly in the essential matters of government?

    If money is an issue, and it often is in local government, public servants must use the means available to overcome obstacles and meet the needs of citizens. The resolution now before the Calumet County Board doesn't negate a cost-prohibitive policy of over-documentation, rather it creates, even in a seemingly minor form, a policy of alienation.

    Connors cites the cost of interpreters in the court system and Department of Human Resources as a concern for making English the official language, yet aren't these matters of health, justice, safety and welfare? If an interpreter was needed, wouldn't it be required in these cases as an exemption from the official language?

    "It's discriminatory," says Micabel Diaz, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, who notes that in 1848, the Wisconsin state constitution was printed in three languages -- English, French and Norwegian, for review by the public.

    The minorities moving to the Fox Valley today are a valuable and dearly needed resource for our communities, drawn here to balance the supply and demands of our successful economy.

    Diversity is a two-way street. Calumet County must recognize that it cannot simultaneously welcome cultural difference and discourage its practice.