What’s the official language of the United States? This is a trick question, because the U.S. doesn’t have an official language, and never has. What’s the official language of Puerto Rico? Like more than half of the States of the Union, Puerto Rico does in fact have an official language policy. Like Hawaii, Puerto Rico has two official languages. The two languages are English and Spanish.

But the language spoken in each State is a matter for the States to decide. The U.S. Constitution takes no position on this question.

That doesn’t stop English-first and English-only organizations from using it to work against statehood and equal rights for Puerto Rico.

U.S. English has for some years called for English-first policies in Puerto Rico before a vote on statehood. They testified in hearings in 1997, saying, “Would Spanish be used for the official record in federal courts in Puerto Rico? On appeal, the courts of appeals and the Supreme Court must base their decisions on the official record. Does the Supreme Court need to become bilingual to handle appeals from Puerto Rico?”

The Supreme Court already handles appeals from Puerto Rico.

“The goal of education programs in the rest of the United States is to produce students fluent in English. If Puerto Rico’s schools do not aim for English fluency, are the students being shortchanged, particularly if they later move to the mainland?” Puerto Ricans already move to the mainland in large numbers. Statehood is not even relevant to this question.

Last November, their chairman, Chairman Mauro E. Mujica, issued a new statement on the subject in response to then-candidate Ben Carson’s support of statehood for Puerto Rico. “Declaring Puerto Rico the 51st state in the United States would be detrimental to our sense of national unity,” he said, “An overwhelming majority of residents of Puerto Rico speak Spanish and nearly 85 percent of residents are limited English proficient, meaning they would struggle to carry on a basic conversation in English.” Mujica fails to note that other bilingual and multilingual States have joined the Union before, without apparent detriment to the sense of national unity.

“Furthermore, Puerto Rico faces $72 billion in debt and a poverty rate of nearly 50 percent,” Mujica went on, suggesting that a “national language policy” would lead to a solution to Puerto Rico’s financial woes. “When armed with a firm grasp of English, the language of global commerce, residents of the United States are placed on the path to success. On this path, residents will be more likely to secure a better, higher paying job that will contribute to a stronger economy.”
Spanish-speaking residents of Puerto Rico are not the source of the current debt crisis.
Giving his own opinion on Puerto Rico statehood, Mujica went on to say, “Right now, they have the best deal: they are American citizens, and they have their own independent country.” Puerto Rico is not an independent country; it is a territory of the United States. Nor do the people of Puerto Rico have the best deal, as is obvious from the current debt crisis. And of course Puerto Rico’s lack of voice in their nation’s government has nothing to do with language differences.
The level of ignorance shown in these comments is typical of these groups. One group recently posted a tweet mocking a congressperson’s pronunciation of “E Pluribus Unum,” which is of course Latin rather than English. The congressperson’s Latin skills are irrelevant to the question of an official national language unless that language is to be Latin.
English First still celebrates Santorum’s 2012 statement on their homepage. Santorum, a candidate for president at the time, said, “Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law… And that is that English has to be the principal language.” This is not a federal law. Even if we ignore the dangling participle, the statement shouldn’t be celebrated because it is false.
ProEnglish produced a chart showing the positions of the candidates on English as an official language. One candidate has spoken in favor of making English the official language of the United States, and it makes sense to give him that green check on a chart showing where candidates stand on that idea.
But the majority of the candidates have a red check for their stance on statehood for Puerto Rico (and others should have), implying that favoring equality for the people of Puerto Rico is somehow a stand against official English. Favoring statehood for Puerto Rico is not the same as opposing official English, as is evident from the fact that Kasich supports both.

Why are English-only organizations opposing statehood for Puerto Rico, when there are already States with more Spanish speakers than Puerto Rico? Possibly because the fact that 3.5 million U.S. citizens live on the Island without facing the kinds of problems English-only organizations predict is evidence against their claims.



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