PHOENIX – A woman who was barred from running for a city council seat in Arizona because she doesn't speak English proficiently has appealed the judge's ruling to the state's highest court.
The case has brought national and international attention to the southern Arizona border city of San Luis after Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a court action asking for a determination on whether Alejandrina Cabrera has the English skills necessary to serve a four-year term on the council.
State law requires elected officials to know English, but Cabrera's attorneys claim the law doesn't define proficiency in the language.
Cabrera told the Yuma Sun that she needs to improve her command of English but said her language skills are adequate for serving the border city of San Luis, where Spanish is used as often as English. She also told the newspaper that she will keep campaigning during the appeal.
Lawyers for Cabrera said they want the matter settled by Wednesday because election ballots will start being printed Thursday. Officials said, however, that the state Supreme Court hasn't set a briefing schedule as of Monday night.
Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson ruled last week that Cabrera's name be stricken from the March ballot for San Luis City Council.
Cabrera, who last year launched two unsuccessful attempts to recall Escamilla as mayor, was one of 10 candidates who filed petitions to run for the council.
Nelson's ruling was based on tests administered by a sociolinguistics expert, as well as her inability to respond to questions posed to her in English at last week's hearing in Yuma. The removal of Cabrera from the ballot also stemmed from a Dec. 14 complaint made by former mayor Guillermina Fuentes that Cabrera isn't fluent in English, according to The Sun.
Fuentes claimed she has acted as an interpreter for Cabrera.
Sociolinguistics expert William Eggington presented the court with results of three different tests he administered to Cabrera, who graduated from Kofa High School in Yuma. One measured her English-speaking skill, another was to determine if she reads the language, and the third was to assess her level of English comprehension.
Eggington's report said Cabrera's English skills did not meet the level of language proficiency needed to serve on the council.
Cabrera's lawyers said the action against their client was politically motivated because of her efforts to recall Escamilla. Cabrera began circulating petitions to recall the mayor in April after the council hiked utility rates and approved the layoffs of 12 city employees as part of spending cuts.