In-Depth: Sponsoring 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 Note: In 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.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / MattZ90)