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By David DeCamp September 11, 2007

Little impact from making English 'official'

In arguing that designating English as the country's official language would have pitfalls, Clinton gets it wrong. Twice.

Here's her full quote: "The problem is that if it becomes official instead of recognized as national — which indeed it is, it is our national language — if it becomes official, that means in a place like New York City you can't print ballots in any other language. That means you can't have government pay for translators in hospitals so when somebody comes in with some sort of emergency there's nobody there to help translate what their problem is for the doctor. "So many of us — I did, at least — voted to say that English was our national language, but not the official language because of the legal consequences of that."

First, she says that English already is the national language of the United States, a move she says she supported with a vote in the Senate. But her vote was on an amendment for the failed immigration bill of 2007. Congress never has declared English our "national" language.

Then she goes on to say more, and she gets that wrong, too. Her claim that making English the nation's "official" (different from "national") language would mean state and local governments could no longer use other languages on ballots or pay for translation services in places such as hospitals doesn't hold up.

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The non-partisan Congressional Research Service has examined this question several times, most recently in January 2007. It concluded that designating English "official" or "national" would have no practical impact.

An official designation alone would not cancel government programs, and although several pieces of legislation now pending in Congress would repeal some federal mandates on things such as non-English ballots, none of the bills would go so far as to prohibit governments from helping non-English speakers as Clinton said.

A 2000 presidential executive order, signed by Bill Clinton, makes it federal policy that multilingual services are considered to be among the rights guaranteed in federal civil rights law.

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Little impact from making English 'official'

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