Who Are “We”?

Restrictionists in Congress are trying to push legal immigrants, and even some naturalized citizens, to the edges of society.

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Article created by the The Century Foundation.

Evidently the anti-immigrant faction of the Congress and some of their constituents don’t merely want to send illegal immigrants packing. They also want to push legal immigrants and even some naturalized citizens to the edges of society. Two developments make this apparent: the overwhelming passage last week of an

amendment to the immigration bill
making English the “national language,” and the continued opposition by some members to renewal of the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These actions in tandem demonstrate an inclination to see anyone who does not talk like “us,” (a.k.a. look like “us”) sidelined from the mainstream of American society economically, culturally and politically.

The national language amendment declares that no one has a right to federal communications or services in a language other than English except for those already guaranteed by law. While the full implications of this remain unclear, according to the Washington Post, immigration advocates say it would negate
executive orders, court orders, agency regulations, civil service guidance, and state and local ordinances that call for multilingual services.

An estimated
47 million people
in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home, and most of those people are either legal immigrants or U.S. citizens. English as a second language
courses are
notoriously under-funded
, and waiting lists to get into such classes notoriously long.

Obviously it is very difficult under current law to survive economically in this country without knowing how to speak English. It is insulting to immigrants and Americans who speak another language to suggest that they don’t know this or don’t care. Nonetheless, the Congress believes their lives should be made harder because of their failure to overcome what are often impossible obstacles.

And this does not even take into account the cultural message this sends to people here and people around the world—if you
don’t speak fluent English, you don’t belong here.

Opposition to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act may be even more pernicious, and the rhetoric surrounding it echoes that of the English amendment—that people who do not speak great English should have lesser rights. Fifty-six members of the House of Representatives
wrote a letter
to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee strongly opposing renewal of this provision.

Section 203 requires that communities with a large number of citizens who do not speak proficient English provide language assistance for voting. There is a relatively small but very persistent and vocal group that wishes to see this law expire. This faction believes the provision discourages people from learning English, facilitates noncitizen voting, and is too expensive.

However, as the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights goes
through in detail,
all of these arguments
are specious. And they certainly do not overcome the overwhelming evidence that Section 203 is needed to ensure we sustain a true democracy. We got rid of literacy tests some time ago in this country. We do not limit the franchise to any particular ethnic group or those with advanced education. We believe every citizen has an equal right to participate in the democratic process, no matter what their background, race, gender, income, or first language.

Latinos already have very low voter participation rates. There is no question that
without language assistance
in select jurisdictions, this would worsen. A 2004 exit poll of approximately 11,000 Asian American voters found that almost one-third of them needed some assistance. The
percentage needing assistance
was even higher for new voters. If these citizens are effectively denied the right to vote because of a language barrier, can we truly say we are a government by the people, for the people?

The combination of these two recent efforts paints a disturbing picture of where we are going as a country. We believe this to be the land of opportunity and equality. These activities portend an America that is neither.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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