Proposed Georgia amendment changes official language, shunning immigrants

GA Constitution English Language Georgia proposes making English the official language of the state through Senate Resolution 587. Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

New proposed Senate Resolution 587 takes another stab at making English Georgia’s official language. State senator Joshua McKoon proposed the resolution on Jan. 18, 2018, and thinks this piece of legislation will not only reduce taxpayers’ money spent on government translations, but will also push non-native speakers to pursue learning English.

“There’s obviously a cost associated with the government making written documents available in different languages,” he told The Signal. “If you could avoid that cost, you would be able to redirect those funds to what I believe would be more productive uses of limited taxpayer resources.”

As for his second piece of reasoning, McKoon said promoting the English language will result in a healthier political climate.

“Research shows that the adoption of English by [the non-native English speaking] population [has] slowed down. The speed in which people will adopt English will increase and the reason that is a benefit is that having a common language is critically important to a functioning democracy,” McKoon said.

Making English Georgia’s official language will change government tests, such as the driver’s test, which is now currently offered in 11 different languages. These tests will now be conducted in English.

“We are offering the [driver’s] test in 11 different languages, but the road signs are only in one language… Why would we offer the test in different languages?” McKoon said.

All government meetings, announcements, and agendas would also be provided solely in English, which McKoon said would also help save the government money.

“The idea that there’s going to be state resources provided to accommodate non-native English speakers is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” the senator said.

The bill offers nine exemptions that will continue to accommodate native speakers of other languages. For example, within the healthcare system, people on Medicaid would still be able to receive medical treatment with reasonable language accommodations. Similarly, within the criminal justice system, there would be no restrictions put on the attornies, and they would still be able to communicate with their defendant in whatever language they choose.

According to McKoon, roughly 80 percent of Georgians are native English speakers, which poses the question of accommodations for a small population of people, like the Hispanic community. But McKoon says he doesn’t think anyone will be negatively impacted.

“I certainly don’t think there’s a negative impact on any community, including the Hispanic community.”

Democratic Sen. Park Cannon feels differently. She worked with the other Democrats to make a Democratic Caucus Press Conference on Jan. 29, 2018 in response to the resolution. Cannon said the piece of legislation “simply sends a message of xenophobia.”

“Little will change, but the Georgia Legislature will have said that it does not value and actively intends to close itself off to non-English speaking people. As for its chances of success, I intend to do my best to hinder Senate Resolution 587 from becoming law,” she said. “Our best opportunity is the Senate floor; however, I hope that the people of Georgia will speak up (in whatever language they please) now, and let their elected officials know that this kind of short-sighted intolerance has no place in our government.”

Cannon said she urges everyone to vote in favor of and speak up for inclusivity and reason. She said she believes “languages other than English being spoken in our state are a benefit to us as a culture and to our business environment,” and voting to limit to one language can ultimately hinder society and not help it.

Georgia State student Roberto Guzman comes from a family of immigrants and said such legislation is disappointing.

“That’s really disappointing, not only because my parents were immigrants–and now citizens– but I thought as a nation we were becoming more progressive. This makes immigrants not feel welcome to a country founded by immigrants,” he told The Signal.