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English Only Law Proposed In Arizona Would Restrict Government Mailings To Spanish Speakers

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ENGLISH ONLY ARIZONA
AP/File

An Arizona politician wants to crack down on printing government documents in Spanish.

State Rep. Steve Smith has filed legislation that would prohibit mailing government documents in languages other than English, the Arizona Republic reports -- an action that critics say would violate the Civil Rights Act and set the state up for another round of litigation over its immigration laws.

Aimed at the state’s large Spanish-speaking population, HB 2283 would instead require state agencies to post non-English versions of documents online and house a printed version in the state agency’s office. The law exempts documents related to voting.

“We don’t need to print, bind and ship everything an agency does at the taxpayers’ expense,” Smith said, according to the Arizona Republic. “We’re spending millions of dollars a year on documents that would be fine printed in English only, as our (state) Constitution says.”

But opponents like attorney Ellen Katz with the William E. Morris Institute for Justice says the bill would violate federal law, according to the Arizona Republic.

Title XI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits agencies that receive federal funding from discriminating against people with limited English proficiency.

The bill passed out of committee on Tuesday and will now need to face a vote before the full state House of Representatives before proceeding.

Some 587,000 people speak limited English in Arizona, according to the Migration Policy Institute -- almost 10 percent of the state’s population. The vast majority of them speak Spanish.

The Arizona constitution already makes English the state’s official language. A more sweeping law passed in 1988 with the goal of restricting the provision of government information to non-English speakers. It got tied up in the courts for a decade before the Supreme Court overturned it.

Article 28 of the Arizona constitution requires the state government to conduct its business in English and prohibits discrimination against those who speak or “attempt to” speak English in public or private communications.

Smith is building a reputation as one of the most prominent advocates of crackdowns on illegal immigration in Arizona’s legislature. He also filed a bill this year that would require the uninsured to provide proof of citizenship when visiting the hospital.

The hospital bill specifically exempts Canadians, who would only have to prove their Canadian citizenship under the bill, rather than verify their immigration status in the United States. The same rule would apply to the citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program -- 37 of which are European and non of which are Latin American.

The Visa Waiver Program allows people from participating countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa, but it does not establish legal immigration status. About 4 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Canada and Europe, according to a 2010 estimate by the Pew Hispanic Center, while some 81 percent come from countries in Latin America.

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