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Should English be declared America's national language?

A nation of immigrants considers the pros and cons of giving English official status.

English is the official language of 51 nations and 27 states in the United States. Last year, a Zogby International Poll found that 85 percent of Americans supported making English the official language of all government operations. Among Hispanics surveyed, 71 percent supported this idea. This is nothing new; many polls over the years have shown similar numbers.

Speaking English is a guaranteed way for new immigrants to succeed in school, increase their earning potential, and enhance their career options.

This nation decided long ago that you must know English to become a citizen. So there is no reason to offer government services in foreign languages. In the same way that the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem bring this nation together, English is something we share and should promote.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Martha Sandoval, a Mexican immigrant who had lived in the U.S. for 10 years without learning English, could not sue Alabama because the state did not offer foreign-language driver's license tests.

Other federal courts have held that there's no right to foreign-language government forms, deportation notices, or civil service exams. There are 30 years' worth of cases like these.

Both the courts and America's citizens and immigrants have sent a clear message: We must unite our country behind our proud national language, help new immigrants advance by learning it, and save taxpayer dollars by making English our national language.

Senator James M. Inhofe
Republican of Oklahoma

English is our common language, but it is not the only language spoken in the United States. Making English the national language and relieving the government from its responsibility of providing non-English speakers with language assistance could have tragic consequences that would affect the entire nation.

Throughout our history, the government and nonprofit organizations like the National Council of La Raza (N.C.L.R.) have helped immigrants learn English and successfully integrate into society at all levels. (N.C.L.R. is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group.)

We at N.C.L.R. wholeheartedly agree that everyone should know English. We'd be thrilled with legislation that devoted substantial money to teaching English, but you cannot pass a law declaring English the national language and magically expect everyone to know the language overnight.

Making English our national language hampers the government's ability to reach out, communicate, and warn people in the event of a natural or man-made disaster such as a hurricane, pandemic, or, God forbid, another terrorist attack. That puts everyone's health and safety in jeopardy.

For hundreds of years, immigrants have come to America to contribute to this great nation and work to fulfill the dream of a better life for themselves and their families. If lawmakers declare English the national language, they will be turning their backs on this common dream as well as their responsibility for the security and safety of the entire nation.

Cecilia Muñoz
Vice President, National Council of La Raza