A Republican lawmaker has reintroduced a bill that would make English the official language in Wisconsin.
State Rep. Andre Jacque’s proposal also would require state and local government to write all their documents in English. Exceptions could be made in individual cases, as well as to teach another language and to protect a criminal defendant’s rights. The bill would not restrict the use of a language other than English for non-governmental purposes.
Jacque, of DePere, said he believes the bill would provide immigrants an incentive to learn English, which in turn would help them find jobs.
“Despite a broad spectrum of viewpoints on U.S. education or immigration policy, there is widespread agreement that English proficiency is critical to societal integration, future success and achieving the American Dream,” he wrote in a memo to other lawmakers.
He also said on Aug. 26 that more than two dozen states have already made English their official language; 31 states have made English their official language, according to U.S. English, Inc., a citizens action group that works to preserve the language in the United States.
“It makes a lot of sense,” Jacque said. “It certainly helps to unify the state.”
The measure mirrors a proposal introduced in 2009 by former state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Wisconsin Rapids Democrat. Schneider got a number of GOP co-sponsors to sign on but Democrats controlled the Legislature that session and they never gave the bill a hearing.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, both signed onto Schneider’s bill in 2009 but neither are listed as co-sponsors on Jacque’s version.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential contender, was noncommittal, saying Walker would evaluate the measure when it comes to his desk.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, called the bill “an embarrassment to Wisconsin and to a Republican Party trying to mend its dismal relationship with Latino voters."
She added, "In 1848, the Wisconsin constitution itself was printed in multiple languages for good reason. As a nation of immigrants, different generations from all over the world have relied on multiple languages and bilingual education to successfully integrate into the fabric of this country. English-only legislation only serves to disenfranchise our new Americans and promote artificial divisions in communities across Wisconsin.
"Everyone benefits when communication isn’t a barrier in critical areas such as law enforcement, the courts, schools, hospitals and more. Rep. Jacque should put aside his personal prejudices, and put his energies into introducing bills that put people to work in a state that now ranks a pathetic 44th in job creation."
Democratic Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, of Milwaukee, said her district includes the largest number of Hispanics in the state. She said the measure would prevent her from including Spanish translations with her constituent newsletters.
“This is going to be detrimental to Jacque’s party,” she said. “Many Republicans saw the writing on the wall after the elections of 2012. This only hurts the Republican Party’s ambitions to hopefully grow a Latino constituency.”
State Rep. Josh Zepnick also opposes the measure. He said in a statement, “My district on Milwaukee’s south side not only includes a large Spanish-speaking population, we also thrive with many others speaking multiple languages including people who came here from Laos, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia and others.
“Milwaukee is a global city with neighborhoods filled with various ethnic backgrounds and speaking both languages at stores, restaurants, places of worship, community centers, etc. Of course, everyone appreciates and accepts the ultimate goal of mastering English. But for some, it takes longer due to age or education and for many, it’s a cultural bond and source of strength to maintain ties to their homeland, where many still have family and loved ones who they support financially and otherwise.”
Zepnick added, “On a lighter note, I have got to wonder about an English only mandate proposed by a guy named André Jacque? Je ne sais pas, mon frère, je ne sais pas!”