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Lawmakers push to make English the official language of Wisconsin in latest anti-immigrant effort

Republican lawmakers have resurrected yet another anti-immigrant bill, this time in an effort to make English the official language in Wisconsin. It is a renewal of their argument that the measure will push immigrants to learn the language and make them more attractive to employers.

Senators Andre Jacque, Dave Craig, and Steve Nass began circulating the bill for co-sponsors on January 6. The three are among the most conservative members of the Republican majority, and noted for their anti-immigrant legislation.

The proposal would declare English as Wisconsin’s official language and require all state and local government officials to write all their documents in English. The bill would allow for the use of other languages in certain situations, including to protect a citizen’s health or safety, to teach another language, to facilitate census counts and to protect criminal defendants’ rights. The measure wouldn’t restrict the use of other languages for non-governmental purposes.

The senators wrote in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors that English is vital to American society and that immigrants’ job prospects improve dramatically if they can use the language. Thirty-two other states, including neighboring Illinois and Iowa, have declared English as their official language, according to U.S. English, a citizen’s group that works to preserve the language.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera Action, Wisconsin’s leading grassroots Latinx organization, issued a response to the proposed measure. She charactered the intent of the Senate sponsors as using the hateful bill to fan the flames of bigotry in the run up to the 2020 elections, by creating divisions among Wisconsinites based on language and ethnicity.

“Senators Nass, David Craig, and Andre Jacque know that their English-only bill has no chance of becoming state law. Governor Evers, who ran unapologetically on a pro-immigrant platform and challenged the right-wing politics of divide and conquer, would veto this discriminatory bill,” said Neumann-Ortiz. “If implemented, residents would lose access to critical information that local and state governments currently provide on their websites. For example, access to city and county information on health care, senior care, the courts, the police department, elected officials and voting information. Wisconsin values our rich immigrant heritage and the contributions that immigrants make to our community today. Trump’s white nationalist agenda has no place in Wisconsin, and state politicians that enable that agenda, like Trump, need to be sent home packing in the 2020 elections.”

Jacque and Craig introduced the bill in 2013 when they were both in the state Assembly. They sounded the same arguments then about how knowing English would open doors for immigrants. Republicans controlled the Legislature then also, but the bill did not even get a public hearing.

State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa, a Latina Democrat from Milwaukee, also issued a statement accusing Republicans of pushing an anti-Latino agenda to divide the state.

“This bill reared its ugly head in previous sessions, but it didn’t even receive a public hearing because it is clear Wisconsinites do not support such extreme policies,” said Representative Zamarripa. “The shameful attacks on Latinos are divide and conquer politics at their worst.”

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