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house Bill H.R. 4809

Should the Executive Branch Publish Websites in the Five Most Common Foreign Languages in the U.S.?

Argument in favor

Those with limited English proficiency deserve just as much access to federal government websites as anyone else in the U.S. Ensuring that the White House and federal agency websites — which often contain important information pertaining to their lives — are translated into immigrants’ native languages is an important means of ensuring those with limited English proficiency have access to the information and services they need.

Argument opposed

Translating the White House and federal agency websites into multiple foreign languages is going to be an expensive & lengthy endeavor that’ll sap federal agencies and the White House of valuable time and money that could be better used for other priorities. The federal government should instead fund English language programming to help immigrants learn the prevailing language of their new country.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
    IntroducedOctober 23rd, 2019

What is House Bill H.R. 4809?

This bill — the White House Accountability for Language Diversity Act — would require the White House and each federal agency to provide an official website in the five most commonly used languages in the U.S. other than English. These languages would be determined by the Census data and any other languages that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) determines to be appropriate.

These websites would be required no more than a year after this bill’s enactment. They would be required to be accessible and in plain view on the main page of the English version of the White House and agency website. The links would be in the website’s language.

Impact

Limited English proficiency (LEP) U.S. residents; immigrants; federal agencies; the White House; and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4809

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSponsoring Rep. Luis Correa (D-CA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to require the White House and federal agencies to develop websites in the five most common foreign languages spoken in the U.S. In floor remarks when he reintroduced this bill on October 23, 2019, he said:

“There are many taxpayers whose first language is not English. Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and French are among the most spoken languages in the United States. People benefit tremendously from having different options to access their government and receive information that may impact their lives. This is why it is imperative that the White House and federal agencies continue to be accessible to all taxpayers.Therefore, I am reintroducing the White House Accountability for Diversity Act. It is vital for all Americans to be able to follow issues that affect their lives. This legislation will allow for content to be translated into Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, French and any other language deemed necessary by the Office of Management and Budget. This will ensure that all taxpayers have the option of accessing up-to-date information in their preferred language.”

During his primary campaign, Donald Trump argued that immigrants to the U.S. should be expected to learn English. In September 2015, he said, “We have a country where to assimilate, you have to speak English… This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” This view, which is sometimes referred to as “English-Only,” has been active for decades, rising to prominence in the 80s and 90s. 

Today, the English-Only movement is championed by three major organizations: U.S. English, ProEnglish (officials of which have met with Trump administration aides multiple times), and English First. These groups view multilingualism and multiculturalism with derision and argue that the lack of a “unifying” national language creates “linguistic ghettos” and limits immigrants’ economic prospects. They believe it’s fine to use other languages in private, but assert that English should be the United States’ official language, and all government documents should be written in, and government affairs should be conducted in, English. Advocates also claim that an English-Only policy would incentivize immigrants to learn English, save the government billions of dollars in federally-funded translation services, and improve immigrants’ prospects.

This legislation has 36 Democratic cosponsors in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had 28 Democratic cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote.


Of NoteIn the past decades, it has become standard practice to publish versions of the White House and other agencies’ websites in Spanish. At least 36 million U.S. residents who speak Spanish as their first language rely on these Spanish-language websites to access important information. 

However, the total number of U.S. residents for whom English wasn’t their first language was 59 million in 2010. Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and French are the other four out of five top foreign languages spoken as U.S. residents’ first languages. 

Additionally, after President Trump’s inauguration, the White House deleted Spanish-language content from the official White House website. At the time, the White House claimed that a Spanish-language site was under development; however, more than two years later, such a website has yet to materialize. In contrast to the Trump administration, both the Obama and Bush administrations had Spanish-language websites.

According to an informal review by the Web Integrity Project, federal agencies have currently taken a “huge range of approaches” to meeting the needs of those who don’t have English fluency. The Web Integrity Project reports that “[p]rompted by federal regulations and more than forty years of jurisprudence on the issue, agencies seeking to accommodate limited English proficiency (LEP) users, as they’re known under federal law, offer everything from virtually duplicative websites in non-English languages to brief notes referring users to translation services. In other cases, agencies offer no language accommodations at all.”


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / MattZ90)

AKA

White House Accountability for Language Diversity Act

Official Title

To require the White House and each agency to provide an official website in the five most commonly used languages in the United States other than English as determined by the Census data and any other languages determined to be appropriate by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and for other purposes.

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