Video: Sign language

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updated 3/31/2006 5:39:05 PM ET 2006-03-31T22:39:05

A proposal in Hawthorne, California, that would require English to be used on most business signs is causing a stir. The proposal has been referred to the city planning commission for recommendation.

Some say it's nothing but a thinly veiled attack on non-English speakers.  Nationally, federal complaints about discrimination on the basis of language have risen dramatically in the last couple of years. 

Tucker discussed the proposal with John Trasvina, who represents the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "THE SITUATION":  So what's a wrong with encouraging people to speak English?  People who speak English do better.  Isn't it a good thing to encourage people to speak the language?

JOHN TRASVINA, MEXICAN-AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE FUND AND EDUCATION: Sure, encouraging is the right thing.  But people don't need that much encouragement.  Come on out to L.A., and you'll see long waiting lists for adult English classes.  The janitors who are working until 2 a.m. in the morning, running out to learn English.  That's a great thing. 

We need more adult English classes.  We're not getting them from the Bush administration.  That's what we need.  We don't need these local laws about signs or brochures and other languages.  We need help in getting people to learn English. 

CARLSON:  Wait a second.  When signs are in English, when daily life, and particularly government business, is conducted in English exclusively, it gives people the incentive they need to learn the language. 

I have spent a lot of time in Los Angeles.  I used to live in there.  And in places where Spanish is spoken a lot.  And places where it's spoken a lot, people tend to learn English much less slowly, of course, because they don't have to.  I mean, it's common sense. 

TRASVINA:  The languages in California are unique throughout.  We've got the Marina Del Rey Cafe.  That sign would be prohibited under that Hawthorne law.  Things as simple as that.

We don't need language laws; we need English.  The U.S. Supreme Court dealt with this 83 years ago and said the protection of the Constitution extends to all, to those who speak other languages, as well as to those born with English on the tongue. 

And it would be great if everybody spoke the common language.  You don't limit people's constitutional rights; you don't take away the right to vote.  You give them the education classes.  You give them the classes.  They'll learn English.  They want to learn English. 

CARLSON:  So the U.S. taxpayer should, when people come to this country, it's incumbent on the U.S. taxpayer to pay for them to learn English?  I mean, how exactly does that work?  If I move to a foreign country, if I moved to China, the Chinese government doesn't pay for me to learn Chinese.  The assumption is if I want to be in China, I'll learn Chinese kind of on our own.  So why is it our obligation to pay for this?

TRASVINA:  We don't model our laws after other countries. 

CARLSON:  But you see my point.  You're right.  Of course we don't, and we shouldn't model our law on China's law.  And I'm not suggesting we have to.  But, look, you see the point I'm making.  Why should the taxpayers be responsible for teaching people our language?

TRASVINA:  You don't get a pass on taxes.  There's no exemption for paying taxes, just because you don't know English.  They're non-English speaking taxpayers.  The best bilingual services come out of the IRS.  It helps people pay taxes.  Immigrants, Latinos, Asian-Americans are paying into the system. 

We need adult English classes for them.  That's all we're asking for.  We're not asking for anything special.  We're not asking for anything different.  Having bilingual ballots, for example, promotes educated voters to vote intelligently, protects the right to vote. 

CARLSON:  I understand your reasoning, sort of. 

But think a little deeper here.  How does it promote educated voters?  American life takes place in English.  It just does.  That's nothing you or I can do anything about.  I think it ought to; you probably don't.  But whatever.  It's true.

So if you don't speak English fluently, how can you know enough to vote? You can't really, can you?

TRASVINA:  When we said literacy tests are bad, we got rid of the biggest literacy test, the English only ballot.  You can get information about the candidates in other languages.  You know you're for Kerry or Bush, it doesn't matter what language you speak.  You ought to be able to go in and vote that way and vote intelligently. 

So these bilingual ballots are there.  They're very cost effective. 

They work well in the southwest and northeast and some other places.  There's not a big issue any more.  People want to learn English.  We have to have the English classes.  Senator Bingaman has been a leader of that in the Senate, as well as Senator Domenici, a bipartisan effort just like on the immigration bill this week. 

Bipartisan consensus, the people ought to have the opportunities to learn English.

CARLSON:  I guess it kind of strains credulity that when people don't learn English, it's our fault.  It's the American taxpayers' fault.  We're not spending enough to help them learn English?  You know, people who come here to partake in the opportunity of free enterprise of America but don't learn the language, and that's somehow our fault?  I just don't buy it.

TRASVINA:  No, Tucker, we're not refusing it.  It's the investment in education that everyone deserves.  It's an investment for all Americans to have more programs in English and in math and all the subjects so people can partake of the American dream, partake of opportunities and contribute back to the country.  And we all benefit from it.

CARLSON:  I'm with you on 50 percent of that.  I just think, I don't know, when you come to this country and you're welcomed into this country by the incredibly welcoming people of America, it's kind of up to you to make the effort to learn English.  It's not up to the welcoming people of America to pay for you to learn English.  I guess that's where we disagree with this.

TRASVINA:  And Catholic churches help you learn English. All sorts of places, and that's what we want to promote. 

CARLSON:  I'm all for that.

TRASVINA:  That's what gets people to learn English, not these laws taking down business signs. 

CARLSON:  John Trasvina of MALDEF.  Thanks a lot for joining us. 

Watch 'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET

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