Voters and town boards in several states recently passed laws making English the official language, garnering Hispanic support in one case for what many say was a message to Washington.
Arizona voters last week approved Proposition 103, a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the state. Passing similar laws were the city councils of Taneytown, Md.; Farmers Branch, Texas, and the town board of Pahrump, Nev.
“The voters in Arizona are sick and tired of the federal government doing nothing on immigration,” said Arizona State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, in explaining why she thought the measure passed in Arizona. She was an opponent of the proposition.
While English-only proposals in the U.S. Congress have gone nowhere, the Arizona measure passed by a 3-to-1 ratio, with 48% of Hispanics supporting it, according to an Associated Press exit poll.
Hispanic support is a sign that “the majority of Hispanics believe that the key to success in America is to learn the language of the land, learn English,” says Jose Esparza, vice chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association.
Lydia Guzman, chairwoman of the Coalition for Latino Political Action in Phoenix, opposed the bill. She said she is worried it will be misused by anti-immigrant extremists.
Guzman was not surprised that nearly half of Hispanic voters supported the measure. She says the Hispanic community includes people who have been here for generations, who don’t speak Spanish and haven’t experienced the “immigrant struggle.”
Political scientist and pollster Fred Solop of Northern Arizona University says Arizona voters, including Hispanics, have made clear that the issue of illegal immigration is their number one concern.
Among the ballot initiatives that accompanied the official-English proposition were three others that targeted illegal immigrants.
Arizona State Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa calls official English “part of us doing our job to help (immigrants) learn to communicate.
“Government has an obligation to promote and enhance English,” he says, “to help people assimilate.”