Without any prior discussion, the Michigan House of Representatives has passed a bill, HB 4053, making English as the state’s official language of government. The vote was mainly along party lines with the Republican majority in support of the move.
6% of Michigan residents are immigrants
but 11% of its healthcare workers were born abroad
The bill requires that English be the official language used in all public documents and in all public meetings, but it does not prohibit state departments from translating official documents to languages other than English as long as the original documents are filed in English. There are some exceptions for tourism, business promotion, and the court system.
Michigan Democrats criticized the bill as divisive. “This is a fundamentally wrongheaded and exclusionary effort. It excludes people who are deaf and who use sign language and people who are immigrants,” said Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids. “If we start signaling that we shun differences, this is a dark moment for our republic.”
Erin Parris-Dallia, president, Michigan World Language Association, was adamant in her opposition to the bill, “We oppose this bill and any other legislation that seeks to minimize the value of our state’s linguistic diversity, which is one of its great strengths. Proficiency in more than one language is no longer a “nice-to-have” skill, it is a “must-have” in today’s interconnected world. We are troubled by the message this bill sends to Michiganders who speak, study, and teach languages other than English, as well as to those outside our state who recognize the value of these skills.”
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), commented, “Are we so divided that we can’t get 55 people to acknowledge that English is the fundamental language of this state? Diversity with no shared values drives us deeper into our different corners and silos.”
Nathan Bootz, English department chair at Alba Public Schools in Lansing, Michigan, described the move as “both folly and foolish,” adding: “Michigan has always been a diverse population across both peninsulas, and to say that English is the official language is a waste of time and resources. Does it really matter? Will this help unite our country or state? Will it improve the economy? Will it help protect our natural resources? Will it improve the situations of the impoverished? Let’s hope our lawmakers have a better plan to bring Michigan to greatness, than by making English our official language.”
The bill now moves to the state Senate in Michigan, where it is expected to pass, as the Republicans hold a 27-11 majority.
Congrats to the Michigan House members who fought to make some progress in making English the official language of government in their state. Just a quick note and question for those who oppose the concept such as Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) who reacted to the commonsense bill with “If we start signaling that we shun differences, this is a dark moment for our republic.” It would make for an easier and much shorter discussion if we pro-English Americans had some idea of what the left has in mind for the future of a nation that struggles to find unity with the most diverse population on the planet and takes in more immigration than any other nation.
Please tell us exactly how many languages we must use and accommodate in our government operations to demonstrate how noble and evolved we are? Is it 100? 200? 1000 languages? Or should we set a goal of insuring that no-one is “left behind” and plan on operating our government in all 7000 of the world’s languages? Having spent the money to build a politically correct Tower of Babel nation, and presumably satisfied the LeGrands’ of the country, would we then be worthy of the left’s acceptance and praise – or would we than be told to begin printing official documents in Emojis so as to placate the latest demand for “fairness and inclusion?”
It was mind-boggling to me how many Republicans refused to vote for this. However once it was put on the board they had to side with the constituents and not with their donors.
Statement from Michigan TESOL Association:
House Bill 4053 designates English as the official language of Michigan. While on the surface, this bill appears to be a mere directive to use English in all public records, public meetings, and official local and state government acts. However, using English in these contexts is already a standard practice in Michigan. Why the urgency to enact this law now? Closer examination of the bill unveils hidden, but potentially intentional, messaging that reflects the anti-immigrant sentiment that is sweeping the country. The bill capitalizes on the growing fear that English may not continue to be the dominant language used in Michigan. This legislation is divisive, unnecessary, and inconsistent with federal protections of free speech and equal access.
Although the bill does not directly affect K-12 English learners, its social and political ramifications will negatively impact learners and their families alike. While this bill may not change current practices in education, nor governmental services, it clearly sends the message that all people are not openly and warmly welcome to participate in local and state processes in Michigan. Even though current practices conform with the bill, it has the potential to preclude civic participation in the very near future. This bill has the potential to deny or create barriers for our most vulnerable students and families, preventing them access to essential social and governmental services.
There is much opposition to the Bill by religious and government leaders. State Representative Winnie Brinks (House District 76) reminds us that “the U.S. Constitution embodies a spirit of tolerance and diversity, yet this legislation would isolate and marginalize those in our community who may not be proficient in English. We should be focusing on ensuring non-English proficient citizens are able to access educational resources to help improve their English, so that they may fully participate in the life of the community. In addition, we should affirm the rich cultural contributions that a diverse population brings to our state. This legislation would accomplish the opposite. It is for the aforementioned reasons, as well as those provided in your email, that I cannot support this legislation as written.”When addressing the House on February 23rd, Representative Stephanie Chang (House District 6) urged members to consider that “every Michigander deserves to have access to services provided by State departments and agencies in order to make sure their needs are met”.
House Bill 4053 puts our vibrant Michigan history of welcoming and celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity in perilous jeopardy. MITESOL implores legislators to vote no on House Bill 4053: Establish English as official state language.
Michigan, of all states, should NOT have a law such as the one envisioned in this bill, and it should therefore not “follow the crowd.” Michigan is a treasure trove of spoken languages, particularly from the Middle east, the knowledge of which are essential to our national security and defense. Such knowledge improves the U.S. position in international commerce and diplomacy. The fact that bigotry and ignorance prompted other cited states to enact similar bills should not be the standard by which the Michigan Legislature acts.
One has to consider the context in which this bill is being considered and its subtext, as well as the way it has been enforced in other states. The plain fact is that such laws have a chilling effect on the acquisition and use of foreign languages and therefore our nation in the long run. It is impossible to imagine that this bill is supported by constituents, but easy to imagine it being supported by right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner donors.
If it is true, as the bill’s supporters allege, that the bill has no effect on foreign language, then it should also include provision for such foreign language studies, which are being threatened these days on all fronts.
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