Judge Orders Robbery Suspects to Learn English or Go to Jail

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Watch "The O'Reilly Factor" weeknights at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and listen to the "Radio Factor!"

JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight: some creative justice in a Pennsylvania courtroom. A county judge there has handed down some unusual punishment in a robbery case: learn English or go to jail.

Four men who are resident aliens, meaning they are not U.S. citizens but are here legally, must come back to Judge Peter Olszewski's courtroom in a year and prove they've learned how to speak and write English. If they fail the test, they'll have to serve two years behind bars. Joining us now from Boston, immigration attorney Susan Church. From Philadelphia, District Attorney John Morganelli, who knows the judge in this case.

All right, Susan, it's not just learning how to speak English. He said to these guys if you will go and get a GED, in other words a high school equivalent, if you will get that, if you will go out and get a job and, in fact, if you will learn English, you'll never have to go to jail. We'll let you go. What's wrong with that? It sounds pretty reasonable to me.

SUSAN CHURCH, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: You know, I think there are two perspectives here. I'm a criminal defense attorney. When a judge says your client can get out of jail, my clients and usually myself will say, "Fine, Judge. Tell us whatever you want and my client will do it." So from that perspective it's not really the issue.

I think the problem comes with would a similarly situated white defendant or a defendant who spoke English be ordered to take on this really onerous task? I think we all can agree…

KASICH: You mean getting a GED, Susan? Getting a GED and learning how to speak English?

CHURCH: I don't have any problem with the GED or getting employment as ordered. Everyday in court and I am part of that myself. It's the speaking English that's a part. In one year or go to jail for two years.

As we all can agree, it's hard to learn a new language. The older you get, the harder it gets, especially if you're working full time, especially if you have a family to take care of.


CHURCH: But my real problem is I think this really is un-American. This government and this, you know, everybody must speak English movement that this really is reflective of is absolutely un-American. You know, this is a country that created Ellis Island, that put the Statue of Liberty up and said "Send me your huddled masses." And the government is invading the very personal decision of what language a person chooses to make.

KASICH: But Susan, in all fairness here — John we'll get to you — in all fairness here, Susan, people came to Ellis Island, you know, they spoke Italian. They spoke Croatian, like my — they spoke Czech, you know. But they all learned how to speak English. None of them said, "Well, I don't want to learn how to speak English." I mean, I don't think that takes away from the notion that they wanted to learn English. In fact, in a lot of these ethnic communities, they said, "We'll only speak our language at home. You learn how to speak English."

John, the question I have…

CHURCH: Can I just answer that?

KASICH: Yes, go ahead, Susan, quickly.

CHURCH: Just real quickly. I think my clients, every single one of them, wants to learn English and most do. But it's difficult. And the government needs to do what it can.

KASICH: I don't think it's that hard to learn English. I just — how hard is it to speak English when you're living in America?

But John, the thing that I'm only concerned about, they've got to go in and take a test, OK? If they flunk the English test when they go back here in a year, what's he going to lock them up? You want people to learn English. But how do you say, "If you don't learn English, I'm going to put you in jail?" You don't favor that, do you?

JOHN MORGANELLI, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, John, let's look. I know this judge. This judge is a very excellent judge. He has a fair-minded reputation. He's respected not just in his county but across Pennsylvania. He was a former colleague of mine as a district attorney.

And this judge had in front of him two — a couple of young people. And here's what he's seeing. He wants to help these kids. You know, if you come to the United States, we're a welcoming country, and we give people time to assimilate. But what's happening here is that these people who continue on and cannot function here turn to crime. And the judge gave these guys a break.

He's a tough judge, but he said, "Look, go out and be successful. Learn the language. Be successful in America, and you won't go to jail." He could have put them in jail. But he's giving them a break. And this is not anything to do with racism. This is nothing to do with immigration.

KASICH: What if they flunk the test, John?

MORGANELLI: Look, I know this judge.

KASICH: He's not going to put them in jail is what you're saying.

MORGANELLI: This judge is a fair judge. He's a tough-on-crime judge. A tough prosecutor, believe me. But he's fair-minded, John. I know he's giving these kids a chance to succeed. And it should be taken in that spirit.

KASICH: Susan, you know, John makes a good point. Here's the issue. If you live in America and you don't want to speak English, how are you going to get ahead? I mean, where are you going to go and get a job? I mean, what is wrong with telling people learn English?

I favor English being the official language of the country. I mean, I respect somebody who wants to speak Italian. But learn to speak English. You're going to fail if you don't. Right?

CHURCH: I think it's a great recommendation. I think everybody should do their best. And I think the government should do what it can to help people. But not this. Not sending them to jail for two years if they don't.

KASICH: I think John's saying that the judge will not do that. Go ahead, John.

MORGANELLI: I don't know what — listen...

CHURCH: That's what he said. Why do the sentence if you're not going to impose it? If he takes the test and...

MORGANELLI: May I speak?

KASICH: Go ahead.

MORGANELLI: Judges often put conditions on. I know Judge Olszewski going to do the right thing. And I don't know what the right thing is. A lot depends on the effort that's made. But I think if these kids make an effort to comply with the orders of the judge and they come back, he's not going to lock them up if they're not in fluid English. But he wants to progress. And John, he's trying to help these kids be successful in America. And you cannot be successful if you don't know the language.

KASICH: I understand. And my only point is that, you know, I want everybody to learn English. But when somebody says you're going to learn English or going to go to jail, you know, it's a little far.

We'll keep an eye on this and see how this all works out. Thank you, both.

Copy: Content and Programming Copyright 2008 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.