Newt Gingrich has said it is essential we have a common language: English. Mitt Romney has said people need to learn English to be successful. Rick Santorum has called learning English the greatest gift his father and grandfather received as immigrants. Ron Paul has agreed that at a national level, we need one official language. Even President Obama has agreed that immigrants should learn English.
With the 2012 Presidential election in full swing, the English language has been an increasingly hot-button issue—and rightly so. With less than a year until the next president of the United States is chosen, the four Republican candidates have all said they favor English as the official language of our nation’s government.
Yet the Migration Policy Institute reports that between 1990 and 2010, the number of people who are limited English proficient grew 80 percent—from just under 14 million in 1990 to more than 25 million in 2010. Limited English Proficient individuals now weigh in at nine percent of the U.S. population. In a world where English is the language of commerce, and a country where English is the language of success, these rising numbers are cause for concern. Now, more than ever, we need to enact a policy that will provide immigrants with the best possible opportunity to achieve the American dream. This means making English the official language of our government.
As the Chairman of U.S. English, a group that lobbies for preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States, I have heard every possible argument against Official English. Yet, as an immigrant myself, I can speak to its importance. I have seen firsthand the doors that open to foreign newcomers as a result of learning the English language.
Life without English proficiency in the United States is a life of low-skilled, low-paying jobs—on average, immigrants who speak English earn two and a half times more than immigrants who do not speak English. Knowledge of English leads to the realization of the American Dream of increased economic opportunity and the ability to become a more productive member of society. After all, how can one fully appreciate all that America has to offer, and how can one participate fully in the democratic process, without a firm grasp of the English language?
Studies have shown that immigrants are slower to learn English when they receive more native language support, such as the translation of government forms and documents. No one can deny the comfort that comes from receiving native language support upon arriving in a new country. But with a majority of immigrants coming to the U.S. to experience our freedom of opportunity, their first goal should be adjusting to the culture—and learning the language—that will allow them to attain a better life here.
Official English removes the crutch of government translations and encourages immigrants to assimilate and learn the language of success in America. Private businesses and everyday conversations would not be affected, and because Official English only applies to government, citizens are free to speak their language of choice as they go about their daily lives. In fact, despite misconceptions to the contrary, Official English does not discourage multilingualism. I believe that Americans should be free to speak whichever language they choose. I myself am fluent in four languages! But in order to fully live the American way, all citizens must be able to speak English.
At a time when our country is so divided, Official English is the one thing that can serve as our common denominator. The movement is not about protecting the English language, but rather about preserving our national unity and allowing us to remain a unified country rather than a divided one. As we continue to move closer to electing our next President, let us remember to consider each candidate’s position on Official English. Is our next president willing to ensure the best opportunity for immigrants while ensuring our national unity? Several candidates have committed. For more information on the Official English movement, as well as candidates’ positions on the issue, visit www.usenglish.org.
Mauro E. Mujica is the CEO of U.S. English, Inc.