Editor’s Debate: DMV driving test

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Twenty-five states currently have laws stating English is their official state language. Some would say that it’s a matter of common sense; you must be able to speak the primary language of a country in order to function in society. Others would say that those laws are simply another example of the backlash immigrants are facing in this country.

The Supreme Court recently ruled in a 5-4 majority that the right to sue over the alleged discriminatory effects of a state policy or law was not expressly granted by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, nor could that right be inferred.

The court based its ruling on a case brought before them in which Martha Sandoval, an immigrant from Mexico, sued after she was not allowed to take her driving exam in Spanish. Sandoval resides in Alabama and that state passed a voter referendum in 1990 that made English the official language of state business.

Who cares? may be your initial response; we have public transportation and if someone really wants to drive they’ll learn to speak the language.

Okay, let’s run with that. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, there’s a woman living in Alabama, a new citizen of our country, who stays home taking care of her two children while her husband goes to work. Today our mother has to take her six year old to school, go to the grocery store, stop by the bank and pick up her six year old from school. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Well, she can’t afford to take a taxi on a regular basis, who could? So that leaves her with the bus system and her ability to walk. She starts off by walking her six-year-old to the bus stop; she has her two-year-old in tow, because you can’t just leave the kid at home. After the school bus leaves with her six-year-old she walks to the nearest bus stop to catch a bus to town to do her banking and grocery shopping. The nearest stops about a mile away, so she heads that way pushing her two-year-old in a stroller.

From the bus stop they walk to the bank, about a twenty-minute excursion. She does her banking and then gets on another bus to go to the grocery store. By this time the child is getting a little fussy. They get off the bus and walk to the store, which only takes 10 minutes. They do the shopping and she comes out of the store carrying two bags and pushing her child in the stroller.

Next she walks back to the bus stop and waits twenty minutes for the next bus; she manages to get her groceries and her child onto the bus with the help of a kind passenger. By this time the two year old is crying—it’s naptime. She tries to quiet the child as they ride home. They are let off at their stop and now it’s a mile walk to get home. Groceries, screaming two year old, she’s trying to juggle it all. Well, anyway, I think you get the picture.

There are a hundred scenarios you could come up with. My point is that while we may think of the Supreme Court ruling in an abstract manner there are real people out there that it affects. I don’t think we should make someone’s life harder than it has to be because they don’t speak the same language we do.

I think of the words that have greeted new citizens for two centuries:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Unless you don’t speak English.