Small towns are raising the stakes in America’s immigration wars by passing laws demanding that all local council business is conducted in English.
Jackson, population 1,700, has no shops, no school, no church and is predominantly white with a handful of Spanish-speaking farm-workers.
But the rural town in Upstate New York — about 2,500 miles from the nearest Mexican border — was determined to protect its English-speaking heritage.
‘For too long, the federal government has shirked its duty by not passing English as the official language of the United States,’ said Council member Roger Meyer, who proposed the legislation.
‘So seeing as this law couldn’t be passed from the top down, I felt I’d start a grass-roots movement to try and get it passed from the bottom up,’ he added.
The law designates English as Jackson’s official written and spoken language ‘to be used in all official meetings and business conducted by the elected officials and their appointees.’
Already, one neighbouring town, Argyle, has passed a similar resolution and a third, Easton, is debating the measure at a meeting next month.
It is a world away from the heated debate being waged over Arizona’s controversial decision to grant police new laws to quiz people they suspect of being in the country illegally.
But supporters claim it underlines the undercurrent of support for bolder action to curb immigration and preserve the language and culture that many fear are under threat in parts of the US.
Despite a wave of condemnation levelled at Arizona–with Los Angeles yesterday banning all official business with the state–a new opinion poll found that 59% of Americans supported the crackdown.
Even in Jackson, where nobody really believes there is a serious threat of a sudden flood of immigrants, town officials felt it necessary to make a stand.
‘People come here because it’s better than the place they were in,’ Mr Meyer told the New York Times. ‘If that’s the case, you should be adapting yourself to our ways. We shouldn’t be adapting to your ways.’
However, the law has put the town at odds with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is demanding the law is rescinded.
‘The English language is not under attack in Jackson or anywhere else in the state or country,’ said union director Melanie Trimble.
The civil rights group said the law was a threat to free speech and discriminated against anyone with limited English skills.
Alan Brown, the town supervisor and the only council member to vote against the measure, insisted: ‘The law would play to some people’s prejudices and I don’t think that’s a good thing.
‘This law didn’t pop up because someone has interest in and sympathy for the fact that we’ve always done our meetings in English.
‘What is a human’s greatest fear? It’s fear of whatever, of death, of terrorism, fear of what we don’t understand. We’re all afraid of the unknown. My opinion is that this is just adding to all of that,’ he added.