Saturday, April 26, 2008

Frederick News-Post: Frederick Co. debates official language

April 23, 2008 - 7:45am
The Frederick County Commissioners are considering whether to designate English as the official county language.

Commissioner Charles Jenkins, a Republican, proposed the ordinance last week. It would require that all county documents be in English.

They are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to hold a public hearing for possible passage.

This is the latest of several proposals by Jenkins and other Frederick County politicians aimed at illegal immigration, and Jenkins said there will be more coming. He plans to propose a local employment law to reduce illegal immigration, he said.

His previous attempt to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving county benefits, like public education and library use, failed.

Jenkins fears that non-English speakers will demand translations of lengthy government documents like comprehensive plans or solid waste management evaluations.

"I want to be proactive and have a policy in place that says if there's going to be anything written that we produce, it would be in English," Jenkins said.

Commissioner John L. Thompson, Jr., a Republican, supports the legislation, so Jenkins needs only one more vote to send it to public hearing.

Commissioners President Jan Gardner, a Democrat, said she would support designating English as the official language, but would not support an ordinance that prevents county departments from using other languages.

"I think we should encourage people to learn the English language, but I wouldn't want to be prevented from providing written instructional materials to English language learners," Gardner said.

She also believes the county should be able to use other languages for public health or safety reasons.

Jenkins hopes to limit the amount of money spent on services for non-English speakers. He has objected to mandates for interpreters in schools and jails, and wants to draw the line before the county incurs more expenses for translation.

He does not believe the proposal would affect documents prepared through programs with state funding, like materials for foreign language classes in schools or some health department programs.

Currently, the county translates some documents, such as an ad about the Head Start early education program and information on health services. Funding for those translations are not specifically set aside in the county's operating budget.

Jenkins does not favor any ordinance that only offers a ceremonial designation and would not prevent translations of county documents.

His proposal has the support of Help Save Maryland, a group that urges lawmakers to protect the state against the "negative effects of illegal aliens."

Steven R. Berryman, the Frederick County coordinator of Help Save Maryland, said the group believes citizenship should be earned.

"It needs to be a privilege to be a citizen in the United States, and with privileges come responsibilities," he said. "One of the costs of admission to the U.S. should be learning English, as the teachings of America are found in the English language."

The onus should be on immigrants coming to the country to follow the laws and learn the language, rather than on the county taxpayers, he said.

But not translating could be more expensive in the long run, said Maria Shuck, a Spanish interpreter and the coordinator of the Limited English Proficiency program at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

She said the county should encourage the use of qualified interpreters and translators, especially in the legal, medical, social service and educational arenas. It can be difficult to learn a foreign language, and even after a few years of classes and immersion, technical terminology and cultural nuances can remain foreign.

"In my personal opinion, I think when groups get together to demand that a law be passed to make English the official language, it's really more of a mechanism to make some kind of anti-immigration statement," Shuck said.

Copyright 2008 The Frederick News-Post. All rights Meg Bernhardt @ The Frederick News-Post


Post a Comment

<< Home