Supporters of Lino Lakes resolution say 'English only' term too divisiveby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A controversial resolution passed last month by the Lino Lakes City Council encourages the city government to provide official documents only in English.
But supporters say don't call the measure "English only".
Dave Roeser, the city council member who proposed the resolution, finds the shorthand polarizing, according to memos obtained by MPR News this week through Minnesota's data practices law.
"You're labeling of this issue as 'English Only' is incorrect and is a loaded term," Roeser wrote in an email to Ivy Cavegn, a Lino Lakes resident who opposed the measure.
"It is divisive and can be upsetting to people," Roeser said in the e-mail. "The misuse is intended to provoke an emotional reaction and subtly demonize anyone who favors making English our official language to transact the business of government."
Roeser prefers the term "official English."
His writing was clearly influenced by ProEnglish, a national advocacy group that promotes making English the official language of the United States. The ProEnglish website includes a similar description on the preferred terminology of such measures, with nearly the exact wording Roeser uses in his e-mail:
So why do opponents of official English continue to use "English-only"? Because it is a loaded term that conveys exclusivity and an implied feeling of linguistic superiority. For that reason it is divisive and can be upsetting to people whose native language is not English. Its misuse is intended to provoke an emotional reaction and subtly demonize anyone who favors making English our official language, as well as those who simply want to protect its role as the common language of the United States.
The Arlington, Va.-based group has told MPR News it helped city officials in Lino Lakes craft the resolution and supplied Roeser with talking points. ProEnglish also advised Roeser on how similar measures have held up against legal challenges around the country.
Some immigration-rights advocates are leery of ProEnglish's involvement because the group's founder, John Tanton, has publicly called for lowering the number of legal immigrants admitted into the U.S. In Lino Lakes, the English language proposal became a flashpoint on race and immigration for both supporters and detractors.
Roeser has said he only learned of ProEnglish after a staffer contacted him once news broke of his proposal.
Roeser, a Chicago-area native who works as a business broker, has maintained all along that his proposal has nothing to do with immigration. He first raised the issue before the council in December as just one of a couple dozen budget-saving ideas, according to one of the memos. No one has ever asked the city to translate documents into other languages, but Roeser likens his resolution to an insurance policy preventing future costs.
MPR News requested to review all correspondence the city has sent or received pertaining to the resolution. Lino Lakes released several dozen e-mails and meeting minutes, but withheld some documents, citing the Government Data Practices Act.
E-mails from members of the public sent to city council members are considered private data, unless the sender or recipient chooses to make them public, according to Lino Lakes City Attorney Joseph Langel.
Ivy Cavegn, the Lino Lakes resident who received the semantics lesson from Roeser, responded that the Pioneer Press quoted the councilman referring to the measure as "English-only" in an interview.
Cavegn wrote: "Which ever way you choose to identify it, the issues I have addressed regarding the Council's proposal remain the same because your intent for the proposal is the same -- no language options in Lino Lakes."
However, the resolution offers plenty of exceptions in which translations of official business would be allowed, including tourism, public health, and public safety. An internal Lino Lakes city memo acknowledged that resolutions, lacking the regulatory teeth of an ordinance, generally are meant to be more symbolic.
Supporters of such measures include Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said Minnesota should consider making English the state's official language. In 2008, State Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, now a gubernatorial candidate, co-authored a bill that would have done that, but the proposal didn't get a hearing.