Pickens County officials voted recently to make English the county's official language. We hope this contagion doesn't spread to other counties in the state.
One more vote is required before the matter is finalized. If, as expected, the county adopts the provision, all business with the county must be conducted in English except in an emergency.
The law would apply only to companies doing business with the county and would not affect hospitals, schools or courts. But the ordinance also specifies that the county would not employ anyone who cannot document they can legally work in the United States. It also requires vendors working for the county to certify that they do not knowingly hire or employ unauthorized workers.
Those rules, in fact, simply mirror what already is required by the state. A state law passed earlier this year requires all businesses to verify that new hires are in the U.S. legally or face civil fines of up to $1,000 per worker. Workers who lose jobs to illegal immigrants also are entitled to sue their former employers under the new law.
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But state lawmakers rejected a proposal that would have required all government paperwork and videos to use English.
Ultimately, the Pickens English-only proclamation is likely to do little harm -- and little good. It affects only a limited number of employers, and has enough loopholes to ensure that people who don't speak English can get help in an emergency and that non-English-speaking children can communicate at school.
The English-only law might, however, make it harder for non-English-speakers to pass a driver's test and get a driver's license. The likely effect of that is an increase in the number of unlicensed drivers on the road.
But the real problem with this proposal is that it addresses a nonexistent problem. It is based on the mistaken notion that immigrants -- legal or illegal -- lack the desire or ability to assimilate.
That is flat wrong. Numerous studies show that nearly all U.S.-born children of immigrants are fluent in English.
Furthermore, those immigrants who can't speak English are not resistant to learning the language. English-language classes nationwide cannot accommodate all the immigrants seeking to learn the language.
The desire of immigrants to learn English always has been high, and it still is. For one thing, proficiency in English vastly increases one's earning potential. But another motivation for most immigrants is that English proficiency simply makes their lives easier in this country. And barring bilingual signs and documents merely presents another roadblock to assimilation.
Many Americans have a myopic view of immigrants. They see only the poor immigrants sneaking across our southern borders from Mexico and Central and South America.
But many immigrants from around the globe enter the country illegally from Canada. Many more come here by plane with legal work or student visas -- but stay here illegally after their papers have expired.
This puts the United States in the ironic position of inviting talented, high-tech workers and bright students to come here temporarily, helping to educate and train them, and then forcing them to leave. Instead, we should be seeking ways to make it easier for them to become legal residents and, ultimately, citizens.
We don't need an official-language law as a stick to force immigrants to assimilate. They already are striving to do that.
Making it harder for them to do so is counter-productive.
There's no need to follow Pickens County's lead in supporting an English-only ordinance.
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