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White House meets with group urging English as official US language

Updated March 7, 2018 - 7:39 pm

WASHINGTON — Advocates to make English the official U.S. language met with White House staffers recently, before President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign posted an online survey that asked supporters if they back the idea.

“We’ll take Trump’s question seriously when he learns to speak English,” responded Latino Victory Deputy Communications Director Monica Garcia.

Stephen Guschov, the executive director of ProEnglish, told the Review-Journal that he and ProEnglish Director of Government Relations Dan Carter have met with staffers who work under Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

An official from Pence’s office confirmed that a staffer met with ProEnglish “for an informational meeting to hear out their policy priorities,” while an official from Trump’s press office confirmed that “a mid-level staffer from domestic policy met with (Guschov) as a courtesy measure.”

During a GOP primary debate, Trump famously chided former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for speaking a foreign language on stage. “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”

As a congressman, Pence was a repeat co-sponsor of legislation to make English the federal government’s official language. Proponents frame the English Language Unity Act as a common-sense law that would codify English as the official language, but still allow the federal government to use other languages in areas such as international relations, trade, tourism, public safety, health and to protect the rights of victims and criminal defendants.

Indiana, where Pence was governor when he joined the Trump ticket in 2016, is one of 31 states for which English is the official language.

Guschov told the Review-Journal his group is “particularly urging” aides to advise Trump to repeal an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000 that directed federal agencies to offer translation services for residents with limited English proficiency.

Guschov said the group wants to change the rules only for U.S. government operations – not in the home or private businesses. “I encourage people to learn other languages,” he said.

ProEnglish also wants Trump to sign the English Language Unity Act — Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, have introduced bills — if a measure makes it to the president’s desk.

In addition, the group supports the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (or RAISE) Act, promoted by Trump aide Stephen Miller, because it favors would-be immigrants who are fluent in English.

Guschov would not reveal the names of aides with whom he met, other than to stipulate, “It was not Stephen Miller.” Guschov added that he and Carter talked to an aide whom they believed passed on their material to Miller.

Trump’s re-election campaign has posted a 32-question online survey that, among other things, asks if supporters think English should be recognized as the official language of the United States.

“This is disgusting,” Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona reacted, “but not surprising from the most anti-immigrant, bigoted, and racist president who listens to his white nationalist advisers. This questionnaire is clearly political crack for his base whom he must maintain the support of since he is losing support left and right and from independents.”

Cardona said the campaign survey’s English language question, and a question asking supporters if they are concerned about the spread of Sharia law, are “designed to distract and remind his base that Trump still believes in the divisive issues he talked about during the campaign.”

Hector Barajas, a Republican political consultant whose parents immigrated from Mexico, thinks that the ProEnglish approach makes sense. When he was young and his mother saw that he had been enrolled in bilingual education, she told the school she wanted her son in English language classes. She said she’d teach her kids Spanish; schools should teach them English.

If Trump pushes the idea, will it hurt him with Latino voters? “I think the problem has been with his whole discussion on immigration,” said Barajas. “The damage is done. This adds more fuel to the fire.”

Guschov rejected critics who frame ProEnglish as anti-immigrant. Immigrants fare better in the U.S., he argued, when they speak English. When he lived in Peru, Guschov added, he spoke Spanish.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter

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