Statement Introducing an
English Plus Resolution
by Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.)
April 5, 1995

Ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased to announce today the introduction of a resolution which would encourage the acquisition and usage of world languages in this country. The resolution, entitled English Plus, endorses and encourages the ability of the people of this country to communicate in more than one language.

As the economies of the world grow more dependent on each other, there is a need to speak and read various languages and to understand the people of different cultures in order to be successful in an international market. Technological advances have made it possible for individuals from distant countries to conduct business deals and communicate instantly.

English Plus would make certain that this nation becomes and remains a leader in the global marketplace. It proposes that the Federal government purse policies that promote the acquisition of English language abilities by all Americans and at the same time, it also recognizes that multilingualism ensures a greater understanding among the diverse groups of people that compose the fabric of this nation. America was founded by immigrants and it will continue to evolve through the contribution of millions of talented, hard-working people born abroad who will be making this land their home.

Any legislation which curtails the usage of languages other than English poses a threat to American interests and to the rights of individuals. Furthermore, any legislation that mandates English-only instruction is in fact unconstitutional. It violates the 1923 Supreme Court decision, Meyer v. Nebraska, which dictated that "the protection of the Constitution extends to all; to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English on the tongue."

Multilingual programs in this country have been successful in advancing the education of children whose native language is not English. Scientific studies conducted in several elementary schools in Dade County, Florida, showed that children acquire more knowledge when half of their curriculum is taught in their native language and the other half in English. Studies have also shown that children with multilingual skills have an intellectual advantage over those who speak only one language because they are exposed to other cultures and traditions. The education and the future of our children must not be hampered by imposing English-only instruction.

In the Bronx, the New York congressional district which I represent, 60 percent of my constituents are Hispanic and are bilingual. Let us nourish this ability. Let us endorse multilingualism.

Multilingual programs have also been successful in providing medical services to individuals who do not speak English fluently. In New York City, the Bellevue Hospital's Bilingual Treatment Program has helped Spanish-speaking families understand the medical conditions of their relatives and cope with the patients' mental illnesses. Government information in world languages has also protected our right to vote. Any legislation that would diminish the ability of an individual to acquire the necessary information to elect candidates of their choice would be in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Multilingual programs are also necessary to communicate with victims in emergency situations. These must be fully implemented to ensure that emergency care is provided to all in need.

During the 219 years of American history, our government never had the need to impose English as the official language of the land. Opponents of multilingualism claim that the knowledge of various languages would divide the country. On the contrary. Multilingualism creates bridges among people from various cultures.

Our challenge today is to embrace a policy which provides our children with the necessary language skills that assure a successful future. Congressman Ros-Lehtinen and I are confident that this English Plus resolution will gain the endorsement and support of a broad spectrum of organizations throughout the nation.