NOTE: This piece ran in The Hill’s Congress Blog on February 20, 2015. To read Mr. Mujica’s editorial in its entirety, please click here.
Last year, Congress enacted countless symbolic laws re-naming post offices, schools and federal buildings. Congress also chose, once again, to delay action on an issue widely supported by more than three quarters of Americans: declaring an official language policy for the United States government.
On this policy, we are behind. In fact, more than 90 percent of the world’s nations recognize an official language. And English is the most common, official in 53 nations. An official language policy would put the United States on par with other nations in keeping all residents united through a common language.
America is a melting pot, celebrated for its diversity. Here in the land of the free, differences are—and should be—celebrated. Recognizing English as our common, shared language allows for that.
As a nation that welcomes immigrants from all over the world, without a common thread to unite us in our diversity, we become divided. With more than 325 languages spoken in the United States, English is the bond that brings us all together.
To that end, the English Language Unity Act has recently been introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill would declare English the official language of the United States government and would also save the federal government tens of thousands of dollars on foreign language materials.
This is not a controversial issue. In fact, the bipartisan legislation is supported by more than 83 percent of Americans.
As an immigrant myself, I know there is no denying the benefits of a government that operates in one language.
By declaring English the official language, federal government agencies would no longer be required to provide documents and services in languages other than English—saving valuable taxpayer money, which could then instead be used to create more opportunities for immigrants to learn English.
Even more importantly, operating in one official language sends a clear message to newcomers to the United States: learning English is essential to success.
It is for that reason that support for Official English is so widespread.
A September 2014 study from the Brookings Institution found that English proficiency can lead to a 25 to 40 percent increase in income. With this income boost and the ability to face life without language barriers, success becomes attainable. But without an official language policy, these divisions continue to exist.
That is not to say that declaring English the official language would discourage the use of foreign languages. Official English legislation impacts federal government agencies, but leaves private businesses and individuals free to speak the language of their choosing.
In fact, the English Language Unity Act before Congress includes several common sense exceptions that allow federal government agencies to use foreign languages in instances relating to public health and safety, judicial situations and more. But the policy sends an important overarching message: to achieve your highest potential in the United States, English proficiency is key.
Thirty-one states, with the help of U.S. English, have already done their part to unite residents through a common language. Now, it is time for the United States Congress to recognize what Americans across the country have long advocated: English as our nation’s common language is the glue that unites us in our diversity and opens the doors of success to all.