Government interpreters initiative on hold Changes: Clinton-era order requiring English language barriers reduced endangered. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Government interpreters initiative on hold Changes: Clinton-era order requiring English language barriers reduced endangered.

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Posted: Friday, March 23, 2001 12:00 am

By GINA HOLLAND

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON A presidential order requiring federal agencies to be more

helpful to Americans who dont speak English is on hold.

Seven months after agencies were told to make plans for interpreters and

literature in multiple languages, President Bush and Congress are deciding

whether to reverse the mandate of then-President Clinton.

The debate revolves around the financial and societal cost of providing

special services to the countrys growing number of immigrants. One Republican

lawmaker said if the mandate is allowed to stand, Americans could see dramatic

changes, including traffic signs in several languages.

One of Bushs first actions after taking office in January was blocking a

variety of proposed rules, including some agency plans for complying with

Clintons order to help people with limited English proficiency.

Rep. Bob Stump said in a letter last week to colleagues that the United

States should encourage all individuals united by one government to join in a

single language, not pay for multilingual services.

Im very discouraged, even saddened, said Gabriela Lemus, director of policy

for the League of United Latin American Citizens. What is the message? Were

not including people?

Lemus said Bush and other officials have been using inclusive messages, and

my fear now is this is just all lip service were being taken for a ride.

In Denver, Vicenta Herrera, who interprets for her mother who moved to America

from Mexico and speaks little English, said leaders in Washington should be

sensitive.

Theyre all high and mighty. They dont need to speak any other language,

she said.

Stump, a Republican, represents Arizona, where voters decided last fall to end

bilingual education. In 1988, voters there made English the states official

language and required its use in most government transactions, but the courts

struck the measure down.

Stump said as part of Clintons directive, the Justice Department was having

documents translated into 30 languages and that the Department of

Transportation was considering whether traffic signs now in English would have

to be replaced.

By abolishing the order, we will not only alleviate a costly mandate on

recipients of federal funds, such as state and local governments, but also

protect our great nation from further language barriers, Stump wrote.

More than 30 House members, mostly Republicans, have joined Stump in

supporting the repeal, including Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the

Government Reform Committee, which would consider the policy change.

Im concerned about the price tag, but Im mostly concerned about the

principle, said repeal supporter Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. Putting out

crutches for people who do not speak English well is not a way to encourage

people to perfect their English.

Bush blocked guidelines in January proposed by the Department of Housing and

Urban Development, headed by Mel Martinez, who was born in Cuba and spoke no

English when he arrived in America as a refugee at age 15.

A spokesman said the agency was awaiting direction from President Bush on what

to do.

The White House had no immediate comment Thursday.

New census figures show America is becoming more diverse. The Hispanic

population, for example, has increased almost 60 percent in the past decade to

35 million.

Kush Bambrah, attorney for the National Asian Pacific American Legal

Consortium, said that agency changes would not have to be exorbitantly

expensive, as some lawmakers fear.

Bambrah said regardless of the fate of the Clinton rule, non-English speaking

Americans are entitled to help.

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