George Will

WASHINGTON -- "Of course not.'' That was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' answer last Sunday on ABC's "This Week'' when asked whether he would favor prohibiting bilingual ballots.

"Of course not''? Did he mean, "This is not something about which decent people differ''?

To understand why millions of conservatives do not trust Washington to think clearly or act reasonably about immigration, consider bilingual ballots. These conservatives, already worried that both the rule of law and national identity are becoming attenuated because of illegal immigration, now have another worry: The federal government's chief law enforcement official might need a refresher course on federal law pertaining to legal immigrants.

In 1906, the year before a rabbi in a Passover sermon coined the phrase "melting pot'' during torrential immigration from eastern and southern Europe, Congress passed and President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation requiring people seeking to become naturalized citizens to demonstrate oral English literacy. In 1950, the requirement was strengthened to require people to "demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language.''

Hence, if someone needs a ballot written in a language other than English, that need proves the person obtained citizenship only because the law was not enforced when he or she sought citizenship. So one reason for ending ballots in languages other than English is that continuing them makes a mockery of the rule of law, including even the prospective McCain-Kennedy law that pro-immigration groups favor.

It contains several requirements that those aspiring to citizenship demonstrate "a knowledge of the English language'' or "English fluency'' in order "to promote the patriotic integration of prospective citizens into the American way of life'' and into "American common values and traditions.'' How can legislators support both language like that and ballots in multiple languages?

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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