Language debate alive in Calif.
August 22, 2003
By Linda Chavez
Immigration and language are once again stealing center stage in California
politics. The state, home to the largest Hispanic population in the country, is
also the birthplace of national movements to make English the official language,
to eliminate bilingual education and to cut off benefits to illegal immigrants.
Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger finds himself in the midst of a controversy about his
positions on both language and immigration, which could turn into key
issues in the campaign for governor.
I met Schwarzenegger in the late 1980s, when I was president of U.S. English, a
public policy advocacy group that supports a constitutional amendment to make
English the official language of government in the United States. Like millions
of other Americans, Schwarzenegger had responded to a fund-raising solicitation
from U.S. English, and my predecessor had invited him to join an honorary board
of advisers along with such other luminaries as Walter Cronkite and Alistair
In 1988, Schwarzenegger attended an event in Los Angeles to meet U.S. English
members and donors. I found him bright, charming and very committed to the
proposition that English is the key to success for immigrants who come to the
United States, a common-sense view that most Americans share.
Democrats in California now want to use Schwarzenegger's association with U.S.
English and his support for Proposition 187, which would have denied welfare and
schooling to illegal immigrants, as proof that he is anti-Hispanic. Unlike
Schwarzenegger, I am no fan of Proposition 187. I spoke out against it at the
time and agreed with the opinion of a federal court that declared the measure
Nonetheless, I don't think that supporting Proposition 187 means you're
necessarily anti-Hispanic or even anti-immigrant. Some 59 percent of
Californians voted for the initiative out of frustration that illegal aliens
were taking advantage of the welfare system and diluting resources that should
go to legal residents of the state. I doubt many of those who voted for the
initiative, including Schwarzenegger, understood that one of the provisions -
denying public education to the children of illegal aliens - was blatantly
unconstitutional given an earlier Supreme Court decision (Plyler vs. Doe) on the
involving a Texas statute.
But what about Schwarzenegger's affiliation with U.S. English? I resigned as
president of the organization when I discovered that the founder of the group
had once circulated a private memorandum that was both anti-Hispanic and
anti-Catholic. The memo alleged that the influx of so many Catholic immigrants
from Latin America and Asia was going to alter the demographics of the country
because of their higher birthrates, so that, in his words, "For the first time
in history those of us with our pants up will be caught by those with their
pants down." A number of prominent members of the board of advisers resigned
when I did, but Schwarzenegger apparently did not step down.
So does that mean Schwarzenegger agreed with the memo or supported its views? I
highly doubt it; my guess is he was oblivious to the controversy. In fact, the
man who wrote the memo, John Tanton, resigned a few days after I did. In short
order, so did the board of directors, the actual policymakers for the group, as
opposed to the honorary advisory board on which Schwarzenegger sits.
None of the original founders, directors or staff is even associated with U.S.
Supporting English as the national language, and encouraging immigrants to learn
English, isn't anti-Hispanic or anti-immigrant.
The only reason the United States has successfully integrated so many millions
of immigrants over the last 150 years is precisely because we have a common
language and culture. Poles, Greeks, Italians, Jews and others learned English
and came to think of themselves as Americans, which allowed them to quickly move
into the cultural and economic mainstream.
The key to success for today's Hispanic immigrants is to follow the same path.
Ironically, the biggest impediment to this natural process is government policy,
which promotes Spanish-language instead of English instruction for Hispanic
children and Spanish-language services for adults. As governor, Schwarzenegger
could help turn around these policies and make the American dream a reality for
Former Denverite Linda Chavez is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity,
a Washington-based think tank, and was director of public liaison in the Reagan