English-language proficiency is one of the best indicators of a person’s likelihood to succeed in the United States. Poor language skills are often associated with poverty, inadequate healthcare, depression, and—most obviously—alienation from the mainstream of American culture. Immigrants who do not speak or read English well earn 17-percent less than immigrants of similar backgrounds, experience, and education who are proficient in English.
Perversely, by mandating multilingualism in the workplace, in public places, and in education, the federal government has reduced the incentives for immigrants to acquire the necessary language skills.
An estimated 11 million adults—1 in 20—are illiterate in English, according to a national study by the U.S. Department of Education. Spanish is by far the most common foreign language spoken here, with approximately 28 million speakers.
In debating the 2006 immigration bill, the U.S. Senate voted 63-34 to proclaim English the “national language” of the United States. That would have made English the sole legal language for federal documents and denied entitlement to non-English translations unless specifically mandated. Thirty states already have laws specifying that all official government communications be in English. Similar laws are under consideration in 19 legislatures.
Alas, federal policy goes in exactly...