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English-language bill advancing despite questions

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An Indiana proposal to require that state documents be issued only in English is raising philosophical and practical questions from lawmakers trying to navigate the tricky territory of immigration politics. But the bill has gotten early support despite a lack of answers and criticism that it's a Republican effort to cater to the tea party.

Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, said her proposal is simple enough. A constituent asked her a few years ago why state documents were in other languages even though Indiana law states that English is the official language. She said state documents should be printed in the official state language.

"I'm a very black and white person," she said. "It made sense to me."

But the issue — like many topics tangled in immigration — is a politically tricky one for many lawmakers. Some feel pressure from constituents and political opponents to be tough on immigration issues, but those who support such measures are often criticized as cruel.

"It's a very difficult issue to manage," said Sen. Mike Delph, a Republican from Carmel who is pushing an immigration bill that includes a provision similar to Crouch's bill. "By taking on the issue, you invite criticism of a racial bias and an ethnic bias and all these different things. From a political perspective, you don't want to have to deal with that. It puts you in a bad light."

On top of the political considerations, there also seems to be plenty of practical questions surrounding the English language proposals, which are supported by national groups promoting the English language. Crouch's bill includes an exemption that says languages other than English may be used for state documents under certain circumstances, including when required by federal law, when needed to protect rights in court, for public health and safety reasons or to promote tourism.

It's unclear exactly what documents and agencies would be included in the bill and what wouldn't, some lawmakers argued, and Crouch didn't have a comprehensive list of state documents that are currently issued in other languages.

The Department of Revenue offers Spanish forms on its website and takes about 10,000 calls a year from Spanish-speaking residents who need help with their taxes in Spanish, said spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland. The department is seeking a specific exemption from the bill, saying it wants to continue to help those Spanish-speaking citizens — and collect their tax money.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles currently offers written tests in Japanese and Spanish, a spokesman said, but the portion of the tests dealing with road signs is in English. It's unclear whether the proposal would require a change, and the BMV has not requested an exemption. Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Hammond, said the exams are an important public safety issue because permanent residents are not required to know English as citizens are.

"People need to be able to take drivers' tests in Spanish," she said.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said it's difficult to know the full practical effect of the proposal and even more difficult to know why it's needed, since supporters aren't pointing to any particular foreign-language documents that are causing offense. One thing is clear about the "rather confused" legislation, Pierce said.

"That was a message bill for the tea party crowd," he said. "Republicans wanted to send a message to certain supporters who seem to be on the rise in their party that they're with them."

Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, suggested the bill stemmed from frustration over illegal immigration, which he said was a hard issue for states to tackle without action from the federal government.

"I think we recognize it's a problem, but I think many of us also have hesitancy about doing things that come across as being mean in a nation of immigrants," Pelath said. "To me it doesn't seem like it serves any other purpose than to remind people of the differences among us simply to satisfy the anger of a couple of different groups."

Supporters said the state should promote the English language.

"We are making our statement that even though we're a diverse country, we have one official language, and it's English," said Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville.

Delph said Indiana residents are tired of pressing "1" for English when calling businesses, or hearing Spanish announcements over the Wal-Mart intercom or struggling to understand a worker in the McDonald's drive-thru. While the proposal doesn't address those issues, he said it does send a message that English is clearly the state's official language. The state's website shouldn't have Spanish pages, he said, and state universities shouldn't print applications for foreign students in different languages at taxpayer expense.

Crouch's bill passed the House on a 63-26 vote, with a handful of Democrats joining Republicans to approve the measure and several Republicans voting against it. That bill now heads to the Senate, and Delph's immigration bill is slated to get a Senate hearing Feb. 2.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said his first priority on immigration this year would be passing a fair bill that would send a message to the federal government that it needs to address the issue. Though he said documents printed in a foreign language do not bother him, he acknowledged that to some it is seen as encouraging illegal immigration.

"I don't necessarily agree with that," Long said. "There are plenty of people here legally whose dominant language is still Spanish. That's historically been true of many immigrants."

In fact, when delegates drafted the Indiana Constitution more than 150 years ago, Pierce said, they ordered thousands of copies printed in German so that German-speaking residents would understand.

Interestingly, Pierce noted, that proposal drew few questions and little debate.

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  • "Other Places"
    @Gerald Manders >

    Did [it] occur?

    It *was* a foreign language brought her by immigrants from another country & culture.

    @Joe >

    Actually, we do. As stated previously, Indiana's official language is English. American English (vs. UK English)
    @Jack >

    What language is "languge" ? Shall we create a new set of forms to handle your foreign language?

    People love to point at other countries for any number of things and wonder why we don't adapt & adopt them here. Those countries' citizens also pay 30+% income tax to support what is a form of socialism. They can afford to make multiple languages available, at that taxation rate, they can make practically make -anything- (not just languages) available to people. I'm not willing to pay more taxes just so people don't have to learn English.

    No one seems able to define what languages should be supported in various contexts. How many people or what percentage of the population should be part of the population before a language is presented to them? There are +/- 5,000 languages in the world. How many of those should we support?

    @SuzyQ

    Pretty sure? Do you read the peoples' posts? Those for whom American English is their only language butcher it to a point where you wonder just how literate they are.

    Have you tried to learn a foreign language as an adult? English is a handful of rules and oodles of exceptions. How many people know there's singular and plural? People appear to be ignorant of the use of vs. . is used in the nominative case - the subject of a sentence. Everywhere else, it's . Latin addresses all of this and provides easy accessibility to Romance languages - a substantial number of languages and an incredible number of people who speak/read those languages. Perhaps we should adopt Latin? It even differentiates , singular and plural.

    Rocket science? I learned Japanese & Chinese at the same time at IUPUI. Why? I needed a challenge from a boring job. I liked the resources I had available, but applying them was sorely underutilized. At the time, good xiang-qi (Chinese chess) and shogi (Japanese chess) books (this was before Amazon) weren't available in the US in English. I did what I believe to be the right solution for those in the US: I adapted to the assets I wanted access to: I learned the languages.

    (Do you) care to know something? The mention of English as a small number of rules and mostly exceptions is overshadowed by languages such as Latin, Japanese, Chinese. Tons of rules, a much smaller number of exceptions. Those literate in a single language (American English) have a problem with other languages because they're overwhelmed by learning so many rules. It's not unusual for language classes to see 1/2 of the students drop those classes from mid-terms to the end of semesters because people grow tired of drilling & reviewing to master enough rules to continue learning more of the language.

    More than 1/4 of the world are literate in English, the 2nd-most used language (Chinese is first).

    Why should the tail wag the dog?
  • English in China
    Thankfully when I visit China they are nice enough to provide English language translations for me (both business and personal uses). China has a much friendlier environment than Indiana for business and individuals - that's why every business that can leave Indiana for China is doing so. Delph and his bigoted, racist supporters are what is destroying Indiana's economy.
  • old farts
    "Delph said Indiana residents are tired of pressing "1" for English when calling businesses, or hearing Spanish announcements over the Wal-Mart intercom or struggling to understand a worker in the McDonald's drive-thru."

    Yes, it's very annoying to buy insanely cheap goods and services from people working jobs we would never be willing to do ourselves. Plus, pushing that extra button on the phone might be considered exercise in this State.
  • Who's English
    Did occur to them that English is a foreign language brought here by immigrants from another continent?
  • Who's English
    Did occur to them that English is a foreign language brought here by immigrants from another continent?
  • Language
    It is frustrating that more and more you see people who are not bothering to learn broad English. People are able to move into little ethnic focused enclaves and when we print forms in multiple languages, it makes people stay in the comfort zone of their native tongue. As a native English speaker, it does get annoying to try to deal with and communicate on only a very basic language bridge. We need to just put some federal employment agencies on the border and offer people visas on an as needed basis to satisfy economic necessity and keep out criminals and people who will not further this country. Without the federal government offering a cohesive solution, the states will be passing various bills that will accomplish very little other than as a symbolic gesture!
  • English
    I am glad that when I have traveled around the world that other governments provided forms/maps/signs ets in English as well as the native languge.
    It seems to be the considerate way to behave. I doubt there is a good reason to pass a law like this.
  • A bill in search of a problem
    When Sen. Delph finally decies to run for the U.S. Senate as the tea party candidate, he can take this issue as far as he thinks it will carry him. But in the meantime the General Assembly has far more pressing matters to focus on without wasting time on this effort, whose motivation ranges from uninformed to outright racist, depending on the backers' explanations. If English already si the official state language, the state needn't also ban the use of all others. We have an official state bird and an offical state tree, and last I saw, the DNR wasn't out rounding up all the winged creatures of the non-Cardinal variety, not was it clear- cutting state forests to preserve the tulip tree. If this bill advances, it should be amended to also make ethnocentrism the official state hysteria.
  • Come on...
    if any of us lived in Mexico, I presume we would learn the language, or wherever else in the world we lived, we would learn the language. What's wrong with these people, they can't learn English. I'm pretty sure it's not that difficult. It really doesn't take a rocket scientist.
  • Family man voter
    I gave 8 years of my life for this country and I see no reason why we would not reach out to all of our sisters and brothers who are in this country.
  • This Bill is A Waste of Time and Resources
    The Republicans in the General Assembly need to stop wasting time and taxpayer resources pushing through bills such which serve to gin up their hardcore base at the cost of creating problems for the whole state. English is already the official language of Indiana, and it is the primary language used in all state communications. However, many individuals who legally reside in this state are not primary English-speakers, but they still need access to important government information. The proposed bill has exemptions for the police and for hospitals, and to meet federal requirements to provide bilingual education and voter materials in other languages, so begs the question about what is the purpose of this bill? To make it more difficult for non-English speakers to pay their state income taxes? To make it more likely that non-English speakers will drive without a license, and therefore, without insurance?

    Non-English speakers who come to Indiana want to learn English, and they do. However, no one can learn a new language overnight, and it is certainly reasonable for the state to assist individuals transitioning to English. Indiana should welcome new residents and help integrate them into society, rather than pushing policies which will only serve to isolate them and hinder their assimilation.
  • Nation of Immigrants
    English should be the default language on voice mail, ATMs, websites, and such because it is the language that brings us together.

    That being said, these politicians are misguided in their approach which always seems to be designed to penalize, exclude, reject any support or assistance for immigrants (legal or illegal), foreign tourist, students etc.

    Perhaps a more productive way to address language is to adequately fund English as a Second Language training for school kids and immigrants and recognize language isolation actually threatens our national security as noted in the Defense Department Report below.

    (Perhaps senator Delph and his isolationist/protectionist friends should be shipped off to Iraq to get some perspective)

    A Call To Action for National Foreign Language Capabilities - US Dept of Defense

    http://www.wtcin.net/documents/A_Call_To%20Action_for_National_Foreign_Language-Capabilities-US_Dept_of_Defense-2005.pdf

  • just plain wrong....
    Why are we doing this? Why is this taking time during a very important session? We don't have an official language. If we are doing this for uniformity sake, let's make them French, the universal language. This is a back door approach to try and remove Mexicans further. Now they will have a more difficult time adjusting to a new lifestyle. This will certainly lead to trouble beyond what you are prepared to deal with. I am sure there are people who speak Spanish that gave their lives for this country, but now they are being restricted because of it? Don't try to wave your hero war story as a reason. It doesn't work. This country is supposed to welcome diversity, but our history is one of slavery, exclusion and now stereotypical segregation! Good work.
  • English?
    Judging from your sentence structure, English must not be your primary language.
  • Family man voter
    I gave 2 years of my life for this country and I see no reason why we put up with people who don't appreciate to use our language english

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