Measure 2016-040 could make Oregon an English-only state


Jacquelyn Johnson Graphic.

By Ally Grimaldi, Copy Editor

This is just getting ridiculous.

Initiative Petition 2016-040, a measure proposed by Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), has been gaining enough speed in recent months to be considered for Oregon’s November 2016 ballot. This initiative would declare English as the official language of Oregon and would cease regulation on provision of federally mandated information in other languages. In short, the abnormally ambiguous name of the bill—“Changes state/subdivision (undefined) laws regarding English/other-language use and requirements; exceptions; authorizes lawsuits”—can henceforth be called “The Racist Bill.”

The establishment of this initiative would make Oregon only one out of 31 other states to have English-only regulations, according to the Statesman Journal. This project isn’t new either; efforts to get this on the ballot have been going on for nearly 10 years. As stated by the Oregon Secretary of State, the initiative must acquire nearly 90,000 signatures by early July to qualify for the November 2016 ballot, which is probably why it has failed so many times. Each of the preexisting measures has essentially outlined the same standards: that the state of Oregon should assist people in attaining fluency only in English rather than the 138 other languages spoken here, any agencies of state government are not required to provide information or services in any other language besides English, and employers are legally allowed to fire non-English speakers. Basically, the measure would legalize discrimination.

Of course, if this bill were passed, it would serve in direct defiance to federally mandated laws surrounding Limited English Proficiency (LEP) individuals. These people are federally entitled to receive language assistance and protection from discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is supported by Executive Order 13166, which requires that LEP individuals have access to federally conducted and funded programs and activities. It also ensures that vital documents, including applications, written tests, prison rulebooks, consent and complaint forms, notices of rights and disciplinary action, advertisements for free language assistance, and other applications for federal services are translated into other languages. If Initiative Petition 2016-040 were passed, LEP individuals would no longer be entitled to these rights.

If you’re sighing in relief that this initiative will never be passed, think again. Measure 58 (on Oregon’s November 2008 ballot), which proposed nearly identical ideals, skated only six percent under passing. Furthermore, there is still a lot of ignorance and ugliness in this state, even if Cleveland students live in a liberal Portland bubble. “If you want to be successful, you should probably learn to speak English,” said Rep. Mike Nearman (R-Independence). “It’s expensive and inefficient for the state to have to operate in multiple languages.” Said Robert Vandervoort, executive director of the English Language advocacy group, “Making English the official language of Oregon will help the taxpayer and promote assimilation.”

Right, because what we want is to make everyone clones of one another. Great idea! Who cares about diversity nowadays, anyway?

Anyone with a fully operating brain can see that this is just plain repulsive. OFIR would tell you that this initiative is an effort to pursue better English-education for those who are not versed in “the American language,” but in reality, it is just stealing rights that LEP individuals are entitled to and isolating them from rightful communication with the government. What the United States needs is to have better communication, not worsen it by robbing LEP people of their resources. If we actually communicated with one another instead of passive aggressively combatting each other, this world would be a much more beautiful place.

Moreover, a bill like this would perpetuate stereotypes and incite an unreasonable fear of immigrants. The United States already has enough problems with racism and discrimination. Do we really have to bring those ideals full circle with such a limiting and close-minded proposition? This bill is just embarrassing. We need to honor diversity, not suppress it. Instead of regulating the use of one language, the next step to better communication is to encourage students to learn different languages.

Instead of questioning people’s rights to communication, let’s ask ourselves this: Doesn’t the United States of America stand for the land of the free? Is it not written in our constitution that citizens—who yes, might not speak English—have the right to freedom of speech—in ANY language? Of course it is. This initiative is wrong on every level—it’s discriminative, promoting racism, and just plain repulsive. This isn’t who Oregonians are. This isn’t what we stand for. We represent tolerance, acceptance, and diversity, and we’re not about to let some silly measure stand in the way of that.