Arizona lawmakers aren't anti-Latino, they're pro-power
Arizona Republic
Jan. 26, 2006

Don't let anyone tell you that the state lawmakers playing politics with children who don't speak English have an anti-Latino agenda.

They don't.

The Republican legislators who've been arguing with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano over how to fund the state's "English-learner" programs are not motivated by ethnic bigotry.

It's worse than that. They're motivated by power.

Politics is all about getting people to vote for you. And these days, politicians who appear to get tough on immigrants, or the children of immigrants, or anyone even remotely associated with immigrants, win votes.

It doesn't matter that non-immigrants like us lose in the end.

If the politicians dragging their feet on funding for English-language learners have their way, Arizona will end up with a big bunch of citizens living in a type of economic and linguistic slavery.

They won't have the language skills needed to succeed, which will force even more of them into poverty and force the rest of us to shell out more money for the bad things that poverty engenders, like crime, joblessness and so on.

On the plus side (at least for some politicians) poor people don't usually vote.

That may explain why the same legislators who want to declare English the official language of Arizona don't want to provide enough resources to teach these children English.

It took a lawsuit won by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest to get politicians to face the fact that the state was underfunding programs for kids who are struggling to learn English.

"This has gone on for a long time," said center Executive Director Tim Hogan. "And the whole time that we've argued about it, these kids have been losing ground. We've got to get this done now."

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins tried to jump-start the process by threatening a $500,000-a-day fine if legislators don't come up with a plan to meet the needs of the schoolchildren.

But approving such a plan won't stop the shouting. This is an election year.
The state is crawling with candidates hoping to ride victoriously into office on the backs of innocent boys and girls.

"No matter what," Hogan said, "these kids are here, and they're not going anywhere. People can have any opinion they want about immigration and the border and anything else, but it doesn't change the fact that these kids are here and need to be educated. The price we pay for not educating them will be a lot higher."

Rather than viewing English-language learners as a problem, Hogan believes that we should look at them as a gift.

"It's funny," he said. "When I talk to people about this they say, almost to a person, that they wished they had learned a second language. So why not look at these kids as resource and have more dual language programs? All of the research says that learning a second language benefits kids."

That may be true. But for now the more successful political strategy is to portray any second language as a threat. Along with those who speak it. Even if they are Americans.

I got into a discussion this week with a guy on the telephone who said that he didn't want the government wasting any money on English-language programs.

"If that means they can't read a ballot printed in English, that's fine with me," he said. "I have no problem with keeping ignorant people away from the polls."

I didn't bother to tell him that it's too late.

Reach Montini at (602) 444-8978 or