State and Local Legal Blog

The Language Conundrum

December 21, 2010

In the late ’90s and the early years of this century, “English only” had a strong surge of popularity.  Lawsuits came and lawsuits went.  The EEOC opined, although it didn’t seem to have many adherents.  And then “English only” seemed to die a natural death, in that nobody talked about it anymore and when they did, they were speaking in English.

There are disturbing things about an English only policy.  Two come immediately to mind.  (1) English only policies may make it impossible for a Spanish speaker to convey to a health care professional what is wrong.  (2) English only policies may make it impossible for co-workers to effectively warn Spanish speakers of safety hazards.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that this is America and we speak English.  That is a strong argument, no matter how you feel about immigration policies, diversity, and the like.

But I have to applaud the Commonwealth of Kentucky for their recent actions relative to English only policies.  The Commonwealth did what one would expect a progressive public entity to do: it began to offer employees the opportunity to learn Spanish by providing two Spanish language and culture courses, as well as operating a website with resources for Commonwealth employees who want to further develop their Spanish speaking skills.

Kentucky consistently ranks in the top ten list of all states in Hispanic population growth.  Census information suggests that in the last decade of the 20th century, Kentucky’s Hispanic population grew 173%.  Since we all know that population counts of Hispanic residents is often skewed to reflect fewer, rather than a greater number of residents, this is a phenomenal increase.

I find it fascinating that the Commonwealth was so proactive in addressing the needs of their Hispanic residents in the way it did:  a measure which aided Hispanic residents but also advantaged the Commonwealth employees who took the courses.

What a novel response to a serious issue as Hispanic residents continue to immigrate to America.



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Looking for trouble…

December 10, 2010
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Last week we were lucky enough here at MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY to have a visit from Ambassador Meera Shankar, the Indian ambassador to the US.  She was in Jackson as our guest and the specific guest of  Dr. Janos Radvanyi, former director of MSU’s Center for International Security and Strategic Studies and now professor emeritus.

But guess what?  That trip was marred by a search (including a pat down) by TSA officers in Jackson, even though Ambassador Shankar presented her diplomatic papers to the officers.  TSA said it followed its usual protocol and that diplomats are not immune from searches, although what happened in Jackson seemed to deviate from conventions for treatment of diplomats in a foreign country.

So guess why TSA singled out the Ambassador for a search?  She was told she was singled out because of the way she was dressed — an Indian woman, diplomat no less, wearing a sari.  According to TSA, the search was warranted when passengers wear bulky clothing. TSA spokesman Jon Allen said the agency can conduct additional screenings when passengers wear “bulky” clothing.

I’m a Mississippi girl and not all that familiar with a sari, but I do know enough to say that “bulky” they are not.

So is it the fact that the Ambassador is a “foreigner”?  That her complexion may have a bit more olive tone than my own?  That she “dresses funny”?  Or that she’s a woman?
Whatever reason, while the TSA spokesman reminded the press that TSA officials were required to use their “discretion” in whether to go into “search mode”, while a passenger is handing me her diplomatic papers, it seems that rather the TSA used an “abuse of discretion”.  I guess they were just looking for trouble.

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