December 11, 2007

December 11, 2007 | Commentary on

Hurting or Helping?

In the House of Representatives' spirited rush out the door for Thanksgiving break, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus claimed it scored a victory for the Hispanic community recently. How? By striking down a measure that would have allowed the Salvation Army to require its employees to understand basic English.

Now, it is irrefutable that a strong command of English is required to succeed in this country. Nobody can get ahead in the workaday world with a translator at his/her side.

At issue is a 2004 case in which the Salvation Army asked two employees, Dolores Escobar of the Dominican Republic and Maria del Carmen Perdomo of El Salvador, to learn English. A year later, both were let go because they still lacked a basic command of the English language.

Swiftly, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency tasked with ending discrimination in the workforce, filed a lawsuit against the Salvation Army's policy. Although the case is still making its way through the courts, it's clear the issue is giving a few politicians a headache.

The wrangling began when Republican senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee introduced a provision denying the EEOC any funds to continue its lawsuit against the Salvation Army's English-only policy. The House followed suit by approving representative Rodney Frelinghuysen's amendment supporting the Alexander language on a vote of 218 to 186.

That's when it got exciting.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) quickly pounced on the vote, decrying the measure as "offensive" and symbolic of "bigotry and prejudice." Led by California Rep. Joe Baca, the CHC threatened it would work to block speaker Nancy Pelosi's bid to amend the Alternative Minimum Tax unless she removed the Alexander amendment in the legislative process. In the end, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus won, and the amendment was effectively killed.

And while the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and its liberal allies were patting themselves on the back after their "victory," the ugly episode on the House floor also underscores the much deeper debate on immigration and what it means to be an American.

For far too many Americans, the image of Hispanic Americans callously waving foreign flags in cities across our nation during the recent immigration debate fuels the idea that this new wave of immigrants has no intention of ever assimilating into our culture.

Being an American allows one to be proud of a different heritage and culture while nonetheless adhering to the allegiance of one flag and our one country. Legalities aside, the Salvation Army v. EEOC quarrel should remind even the most casual observer that encouraging employees to learn English is not "offensive."

Countless studies tout the benefits of having a strong command of a common language in both the workforce and in institutions of higher learning.

Unfortunately in today's poisonous political climate, it's becoming painstakingly clear that political correctness trumps common sense. Moreover, it's particularly ironic that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is leading the charge against a measure that would undoubtedly help the very citizens it seeks to represent.

After this short-term victory fades away, Hispanics ought to remind the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and congressional leaders that our community is better served by encouraging a mastery of English, which will in turn open more doors for success. The rejection of a common language and efforts to oppose the assimilation of immigrants into our society hurt more than they help.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry

First appeared in La Politica