GOP congressman will hold hearing on English as official language
The topic of English as an official language has ignited cultural tensions.
Republican Rep. Steve King announced this week he will hold a hearing on making English the official language of the United States.
The hearing, which will be held Aug. 2, will debate a long-stalled bill sponsored by King (Iowa) that would “establish a uniform language requirement for naturalization” and would order federal officials to “encourage individuals to learn English.”
“The Judiciary Committee hearing next week reflects the need to get a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on this popular issue- 87% of Americans say that English should be the official language of the United States,” King said in a statement. “Now we need to get Official English passed into law.”
The topic of English as an official language has long been a politically contentious issue. Republicans have repeatedly brought up the effort in Congress, but it has not passed. Opponents of the effort to make English the nation’s official language say it is a non-issue meant to stir up cultural tensions between immigrants and native-born Americans.
English is not the official language of the U.S. by law, but almost all official government business is conducted in English. Before being naturalized, immigrants must pass a citizenship test that judges their knowledge of English. Comprehensive immigration reform legislation, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, would also require them to learn English.
Supporters claim that the effort is meant to unite, rather than divide.
“A common language is the most powerful source of unifying force for any nation. Over the course of history, common languages have created cohesive cultures and have helped prevent division,” said King.
The English issue previously came up during the GOP presidential primary in Puerto Rico, where then-candidate Rick Santorum sparked controversy when he said he would not allow Puerto Rico to become a state without first making English its primary language. Republican-aligned Gov. Luis Fortuño wants the island commonwealth completely bilingual by 2022.
The Iowa congressman, who helms a House immigration subcommittee, has spearheaded several efforts that have provoked Latino and immigrant groups. He wants to get rid of birthright citizenship and is filing a lawsuit meant to thwart President Obama’s executive action to halt deportations for certain undocumented youth.
He also made a controversial remark in May in which he compared picking the best crop of immigrants to allow into the United States to picking a good dog out of a litter.
“You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s the friskiest, the one that’s engaged the most and not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner,” King said.
The congressman faces reelection in November against Democrat Christie Vilsack, the wife of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
(Photo: Flickr, Gage Skidmore)