Congressman Steve King Strives to Make English the Official Language of U.S.

House debates making English the country's official language

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Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, a man who defends dog fighting, still wonders whether Obama's birth announcement might have been telegraphed from Kenya, and is suing the Obama Administration for allowing undocumented youth to stay in the country to attend college, has found another soap box to stand on.

The House Judiciary Committee will take up a bill from King, entitled the "English Language Unity Act," which would declare English as the official language of the United States.

"A common language is the most unifying force known throughout history," King says. "More powerful than race, ethnicity, more powerful than common experiences or even religion, Let's have a united America that is going in the same direction."

The bill's provisions are fairly vague and largely symbolic. But the legislation places an English language requirement on work places and requires official government functions to be carried out in English.

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King says the bill nullifies a Clinton-era executive order that requires federal agencies to provide interpreters for non-English speakers accessing social programs.

"We will not be borrowing money from the Chinese to fund interpreters to speak Chinese for people lined up for welfare," King says.

King adds he's particularly concerned that the U.S. Immigration Services is conducting naturalization ceremonies in foreign languages, something the agency denies.

"That is the directive, but it is not necessarily the case," King says. "I've seen videos of naturalization ceremonies in Spanish."

King's bill also requires immigrants taking the naturalization test to "read and understand" the English versions of the "Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the laws of the United States." King asserts the only exception to that should be in instances of political asylum.

Making English the official language is one of King's pet projects. He pitched the idea during his race for Iowa State Senate. After he was elected, it was the first bill he drafted. In 2002, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack signed the legislation to make English the official language of Iowa into law.

King says the majority of Americans are behind him.

"There are the two to three percent who are militant leftists who are seeking to divide Americans who will make an argument over everything," King says.

In 1996, the U.S. House passed a similar "English as the official language" bill that never made it to the floor in the Senate.

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Immigration activists say King's approach to the bill could isolate the country's immigrant populations.

"When you start saying English is the official language and there is no room at all, you start saying 'We don't want you,'" says Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a group committed to comprehensive immigration reform.

Jacoby agrees learning English is a necessity for immigrants, but cautions against largely symbolic legislation that does little to empower immigrants.

"It's counterproductive," she says. "Of course, it is not surprising that King is behind it."