Judge: Candidate’s Grasp of English Is Too Poor for Her to Run for Office

CNN, January 27, 2012

When Alejandrina Cabrera speaks English, it doesn’t quite roll off of her tongue the way it does when she speaks in her native Spanish.

Instead of the confident, strong way she speaks in Spanish to the residents of San Luis, Arizona, she speaks a bit more slowly, and perhaps with a bit less conviction, when she switches to English. That’s something she admits, but she says that she can communicate at the level she needs to in English, given where she lives.

In San Luis, 87% of residents speak a language other than English in their home and 98.7% are of Hispanic origin, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. After all, most of the people there, by all accounts, will speak in English and in Spanish. In the comfort of communal settings, they’ll speak the way they’re most comfortable.

“You go to a market, it’s Spanish,” Cabrera told The New York Times. “You go to a doctor, it’s Spanish. When you pay the bills for the lights or water, it’s Spanish.”

So why the focus on Cabrera and her language skills? Because when it comes to politics, it’s a whole separate ballgame.

And that’s why a major debate about English proficiency has taken the town by storm.

That’s because when Cabrera threw her name in the hat to run for city council, Juan Carlos Escamilla, the mayor of San Luis, said he was concerned that she might not have the proper grasp of the language for the job. Escamilla filed a lawsuit in December that asked a court to determine if Cabrera’s skills qualified her under state law to run for the council seat.

The fight began as a purely political one, with opponents seeking to block her from running for office after she tried to recall Escamilla from office twice, according to The New York Times. But it has turned into a firestorm in a town where many constituents have the same grasp of English as Cabrera.

{snip}

On Wednesday, a judge ruled that she didn’t qualify to run for office based on her language skills, saying that Cabrera had “only a minimal survival range” in English.

Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson made the ruling after testimony from linguistics experts and Cabrera’s own testimony, where she answered questions and read a few documents. Cabrera, a U.S. citizen who graduated from Kofa High School in Yuma, Arizona, was questioned on the stand about where she graduated, where she was born and what her name was. She was able to tell her lawyer her name and where she was born, but struggled with what school she had graduated from, according to the Yuma Sun. After being asked the question three times, without being able to answer in English, the judge allowed Cabrera to leave the witness stand and issued his ruling, the paper reported. {snip}

{snip}

In 2006, Arizona passed a law that made English the official language of the state. Earlier, in 1910, Congress passed the Enabling Act, which allowed Arizona to become a state with certain requirements. Among them was one that addressed the English language.

“The ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language sufficiently well to conduct the duties of the office without aid of an interpreter shall be a necessary qualification for all state officers and members of the state legislature,” a section of the act reads.

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The issue is part of a growing discussion about the use of English in a land where people are from a variety of places. During a debate this week, GOP presidential candidates said that English should be the official U.S. language and should be the only language taught in schools. That’s the stance of Bob Vandevoort, from the advocacy group ProEnglish, who said that if English were a standard in government, it would make the country more cohesive.

“We are concerned as far as government goes, we don’t want to see us become a multi-language nation, we want to see a nation that has one language as far as government is concerned,” he said, adding that the language people speak at home is a different issue.

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  • Anonymous

    “Mr. Adams”…………………  “Nay”
    “Ms. Brown”…………………  “Aye”
    “Ms. Cabrera”………………. “Que?”

  • Anonymous

    “You go to a market, it’s Spanish,” Cabrera told The New York Times. “You go to a doctor, it’s Spanish. When you pay the bills for the lights or water, it’s Spanish.”

    Cabrera, a U.S. citizen who graduated from Kofa High School in Yuma, Arizona, was questioned on the stand about where she graduated, where she was born and what her name was. She was able to tell her lawyer her name and where she was born, but struggled with what school she had graduated from, according to the Yuma Sun. After being asked the question three times, without being able to answer in English, the judge allowed Cabrera to leave the witness stand and issued his ruling, the paper reported.

    This woman is a prime example of the dangers o diversity. One should not be able to vote, let alone graduate from High School, or run for office, anywhere in America without at least a ghetto resident’s command of the language.

  • Anonymous

    Give it time. In another 40 or 50 years, she would be qualified to be president.  She’s female, hispanic, and can barely speak english. She would be perfect for the presidential campaign of  2055 or so. Presidenta Cabrera.

  • Anonymous

    Yet another place that is “American” only in the strict geographical sense.

  • This is the result of allowing our 14th Amendment to be exploited by illegal invaders, who go on to
    produce militant anchor babies with no loyalty to this country whatsoever. Just
    to recap:

    American citizen required to speak spanish to get a job ( in America) = Not racist
    Anchor baby mexican required to speak English in order to hold public office (in America) = Racist!

    I think I get it. Kudos to the judge for at least having some sense of dignity and common sense in
    rendering his decision, a decision which will likely be overturned on appeal by some liberal judical activist.

  • crystal evans

    How could she graduate from a US high school and not know English? I wonder if she spent all of her time there  in bilingual education classes? There is nothing wrong with speaking Spanish, but as a public official, she needs to be fluent in English. She needs to purchase Rosetta Stone’s English language course to learn English.

  • It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to predict that, at current trends, fluency in Spanish will be a requirement for holding office.  English might still be required for work at an old-folks home.  This is how democracy works; people vote with their wombs.

    http://www.jewamongyou.wordpress.com

  • Anonymous

    “We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here does in good faith become an American and assimilates himself to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with every one else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birth-place or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. . . We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people. “-Teddy Roosevelt

  • I agree with you that it will probably be struck down, but I’m certain there are already provisions for disabled people.