The Democratic party may be already starting to hurt itself on immigration issues by this latest example that John Fund writes about today. Both the House and the Senate passed legislation that would shield the Salvation Army specifically and other employers generically from lawsuits over having English language requirements for employees. Nancy Pelosi has agreed to kill that bill after the Hispanic Caucus threatened to block a promised bill that would shield 23 million taxpayers from the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, a moderate Republican from Tennessee, is dumbstruck that legislation he views as simple common sense would be blocked. He noted that the full Senate passed his amendment to shield the Salvation Army by 75-19 last month, and the House followed suit with a 218-186 vote just this month. "I cannot imagine that the framers of the 1964 Civil Rights Act intended to say that it's discrimination for a shoe shop owner to say to his or her employee, 'I want you to be able to speak America's common language on the job,' " he told the Senate last Thursday.
But that's exactly what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is trying to do. In March the EEOC sued the Salvation Army because its thrift store in Framingham, Mass., required its employees to speak English on the job. The requirement was clearly posted and employees were given a year to learn the language. The EEOC claimed the store had fired two Hispanic employees for continuing to speak Spanish on the job. It said that the firings violated the law because the English-only policy was not "relevant" to job performance or safety.
"If it is not relevant, it is discriminatory, it is gratuitous, it is a subterfuge to discriminate against people based on national origin," says Rep. Charles Gonzalez of Texas, one of several Hispanic Democrats in the House who threatened to block Ms. Pelosi's attempts to curtail the Alternative Minimum Tax unless she killed the Alexander amendment.
The confrontation on the night of Nov. 8 was ugly. Members of the Hispanic Caucus initially voted against the rule allowing debate on a tax bill that included the AMT "patch," which for a year would protect some 23 million Americans from being kicked into a higher income tax bracket.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a moderate from Maryland, was beside himself. Congressional Quarterly reports that he jabbed his finger on the House floor at Joe Baca, the California Democrat who chairs the Hispanic Caucus, and yelled, "How dare you destroy this party? This will be the worst loss in 10 years."
In order to head off the Hispanic Caucus threat, Pelosi and Hoyer had to promise to kill the amendment. The insistence on requiring employers to hire people who cannot speak English – and refuse to learn it – is likely to bite the Democrats. Forcing the hiring of non-English speakers puts an insane burden on the employer and is very likely to increase resentment in an electorate that is already very unhappy with Washington's inability to deal with immigration issues – especially illegal immigration issues.
I've mentioned before that my mother's parents were immigrants from Norway. They refused to allow my mother and my uncle to speak Norwegian at home and insisted on speaking English. Partly it was for the good of the children, but it was also for the good of my grandparents, who greatly strengthened their own English language skills as a result. There is nothing wrong with asking people who come here to learn to function here. The actions of the Hispanic Caucus are against the best interests of the people they claim to represent.