MADISON, Wis. – Claiming it will encourage immigrants to learn the language and improve their prospects in the state, a Republican lawmaker has reintroduced a bill that would make English the official language in Wisconsin.
Rep. Andre Jacque's proposal also would require state and local government to write all their documents in English. Exceptions can be made in individual cases as well as to teach another language and protect a criminal defendant's rights. The bill would not restrict the use of a language other than English for non-governmental purposes.
The bill's prospects are murky at best. Republicans in Washington, D.C, are wrestling with immigration reform as they try to make themselves look more attractive to a broader cross-section of the nation's population after the GOP lost the 2012 presidential elections.
But Jacque is pressing on. In a telephone interview Monday, he said he believes the bill will provide immigrants an incentive to learn English, which in turn will help them find jobs.
"Despite a broad spectrum of viewpoints on U.S. education or immigration policy, there is widespread agreement that English proficiency is critical to societal integration, future success and achieving the American Dream," he wrote in a memo to his fellow lawmakers soliciting co-sponsors.
He also noted that more than two dozen states have already made English their official language. According to U.S. English, Inc., a citizens action group that works to preserve the language in the United States, 31 states have made English their official language.
"It makes a lot of sense," Jacque said. "It certainly helps to unify the state."
The measure mirrors a proposal introduced in 2009 by former state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat from Wisconsin Rapids. Schneider got a number of GOP co-sponsors to sign on but Democrats controlled the Legislature that session and they never gave the bill a hearing.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, both signed onto Schneider's bill in 2009 but neither are listed as co-sponsors on Jacque's version. Their spokespeople didn't immediately return messages Monday.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential contender, was noncommittal, saying Walker would evaluate the measure when it comes to his desk.
Democratic Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, of Milwaukee, said her district includes the largest number of Hispanics in the state. She said the measure would prevent her from including Spanish translations with her constituent newsletters.
"This is going to be detrimental to Jacque's party," she said. "Many Republicans saw the writing on the wall after the elections of 2012. This only hurts the Republican Party's ambitions to hopefully grow a Latino constituency."
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of immigrant advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, called the bill "an embarrassment" in an email.
"As a nation of immigrants," she wrote, "different generations from all over the world have relied on multiple languages and bilingual education to successfully integrate into the fabric of this country."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.