Touché: Congressman speaks in Spanish at hearing for “English-only” bill
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) made light of the hearing by speaking en Español.
A House committee held a hearing Thursday morning on a Republican bill that declares English the official language of the United States. Said hearing quickly devolved into a political sideshow.
The legislation would mandate the federal government to carry out business in English and erase a Clinton-era requirement to provide translators for non-English speakers who use social assistance programs. Opponents say that English is already the de facto language in the U.S. and that immigrants are required to learn English to become citizens. They also argue that the bill would make government less accessible non-English speakers.
The problem, though, is that the bill has virtually no chance of passing Congress.
So, Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, decided to make light of the hearing by delivering his opening statement against the legislation in Spanish — albeit broken.
“Gracias, Señor Presidente,” the Michigan congressman began his statement addressing the chairman of the hearing, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) Conyers continued for several minutes, reading from prepared remarks.
“Hoy en día, los inmigrantes de Asia o América Latina son los objetivos de la demonización y la discriminación,” he said. “Un día, nuestro país mirará hacia atrás a este período con vergüenza y arrepentimiento.”
(Translation: Today, immigrants from Asia or Latin America are the targets of demonization and discrimination. One day, our nation will again look back on this period with shame and regret.)
The length of the statement clearly made other lawmakers in the room uncomfortable:
Conyers’ remarks in Spanish are pretty long, which is hilarious. Franks is checking his phone.— Elise Foley (@elisefoley) August 2, 2012
At the conclusion of his statement, an exasperated Franks remarked: “My wife certainly would have understood his statement … I don’t,” adding that Conyers’ action underscored the need for the bill.
Franks also quipped that Conyers should read his statement in Yiddish, French, and Vietnamese to satisfy the constituents of New York City Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D), who referenced those communities while speaking before Conyers.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said he appreciated those the hearing who did not “villify” or “mock” its proceedings.
“I looked through the audience and I saw a lot of smiles and thumbs up, and I understand that,” Forbes said of the audience reaction during Conyers’ statement. The GOP lawmaker said that he had the same reaction when he hears English at NATO hearings overseas.
Nadler and other Democrats suggested that the bill could prevent non-English speakers from casting ballots. But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) the sponsor of the law, denied that was the case, saying that it does not target language in the Voting Rights Act. In the past, King and his fellow Republicans have tried to erase language in the Voting Rights Act that required bilingual ballots in certain jurisdictions.
Read the full statement below, in both languages:
Ryan J. Reilly of Talking Points Memo provides video of the incident.