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Navarrette: Politicians fan language war

By Ruben Navarrette
Special to CNN

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Ruben Navarrette: Promoting the English language has nothing to do with reforming immigration policy.

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Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Exactly what does promoting the English language have to do with protecting borders and reforming immigration policy?

Absolutely nothing. Unless you think that the real problem with the U.S. immigration system is that immigrants aren't assimilating and that the debate over immigration reform isn't just about the security of our border but also the purity of our culture and the integrity of our language.

Yada, yada.

It all has a familiar odor -- reminiscent of the nativists, the Know-Nothings, proponents of the Americanization movement and all the other groups that have set off cultural alarm bells over one immigrant group after another during the course of U.S. history. It's an ugly place to be. But at least in the current climate, you have plenty of company.

There were those renegade Republicans who, over the objections of the House leadership, recently tried to hold up the reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because they wanted to strip it of the requirement that ballots in some states be printed in "several languages" (read: Spanish).

And then there is the mayor of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. He has jumped into the fray over illegal immigration not just by going after those who employ illegal immigrants and those who rent to them, but also by going to the ridiculous lengths of declaring English the town's official language.

Then there's the tackiest bunch of all: Republican House committee chairmen, who are holding public hearings on immigration reform.

Supposedly, the idea is to hear the public's view on immigration, but they never get around to actually hearing from the public. The suits just showboat for the television cameras and try to elicit -- from the handful of guests who are invited to speak -- answers that reaffirm what they already believe. Then, they go back to Washington and make a big whoop-de-do about how the people want this and the people want that.

The first immigration hearing was held a few weeks ago in San Diego, California, and it missed the bull's-eye by focusing on preventing terrorism. There is another hearing scheduled for July 26 in Washington that is also likely to stray off target by focusing on whether government ought to be in the business of promoting English.

Apparently, that's one of the pressing questions weighing on the mind of the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, wants to hold hearings to examine the public's views on making English the nation's official language.

As part of its stab at immigration reform, the Senate already has voted to declare English the national language.

Yet, it seems that McKeon wants to go further and discuss making it the "official" language, which could require that all government documents be printed in English only.

That may make McKeon popular with the culture warriors and the nativist fringe. But it won't do any good for the country or its people, who have seen this movie so many times they've memorized the dialogue.

Ruben Navarrette is an editorial board member of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. You can read more of his columns at http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/op-ed/navarrette/external link.

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