A North Texas city dropped English as its official language, a move dubbed by its mayor as heralding in a “new day” that was “welcoming” and “inclusive.”
On Tuesday evening, the city council of Farmers Branch voted unanimously to repeal a 2006 ordinance that declared English as the municipality’s official language. That policy stated all city business must be conducted in English, the “common language” of Texas and the United States and said “the use of a common language removes barriers of misunderstanding” and enables “civic participation of all citizens, regardless of national origin, creed, race.”
The Dallas Business Journal recently ranked Farmers Branch, located within Dallas County, as the ninth-fastest growing suburb in North Texas with an estimated 2017 population of 31,719. Updated demographic data based on U.S. Census Bureau figures provided to Breitbart Texas by Esri, a geographic information systems company, shows Farmers Branch as 52.1 percent non-Hispanic and 47.9 percent Hispanic.
Prior to the vote, the city council met for a study session. Mayor Robert Dye called the English-only ordinance repeal “the right thing to do” and a “symbolic gesture,” alluding to a seven year costly legal battle the city waged over a 2007 ordinance that sought to prohibit local landlords from renting property to people illegally in the United States. The renting ordinance was never enacted. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the city. According to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the case was eventually consolidated with other similar legal actions. Several lower courts ruled against the rental ordinance, citing immigration policy remained a federal issue. The city appealed. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined hearing out Farmers Branch, allowing a lower court ruling to stand that nixed the ordinance.
Dye called himself a “proponent of English,” referring to it as the international language of business, then segued to unnamed “studies” that show the cognitive benefits of multi-lingualism as offsetting Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Mike Bomgardner likened the English-only ordinance to the last “black eye” that activists hold onto and “hammer” against Farmers Branch. He suggested repealing it would disarm them, adding, “We have the potential to get some great press out of it if we make this move.”
Councilman Terry Lynne said he did not believe the 2006 council members created the ordinance “with any malice.” He said he believed non-English speakers have “no incentive to assimilate to our culture” without learning English.
Later at the sparsely attended city council meeting, Lynne said he thought it “important that people who live, not just in Farmers Branch, but Texas and elsewhere assimilate to what the local culture is.”
“Where does it stop?” he asked, noting that San Francisco prints up its election ballots in 27 languages. Lynne said he never heard of anyone who would not live in Farmers Branch because of the English-only ordinance.
Dye said other Texas cities did not have an English-only ordinance and seemed to be successfully functioning. He said the repeal will show Farmers Branch as a “welcoming” and “inclusive” city. “We want to show not only to our community but to other communities outside Farmers Branch that it’s a new day.”
A handful of individuals spoke during the public comments. They supported the repeal. One suggested that Farmers Branch voters get to determine the fate of the English-only ordinance in local 2018 elections. Another, Candace Valenzuela, a Dallas resident and Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district board member described the ordinance as “anti-human” and “regressive.” She called English-only bad for children, schools, and taxpayers, alleging it “creates a culture of bigotry,” makes Spanish speakers feel unwelcome, and their children “inferior and un-American” while turning away “people who would enhance” the tax base and contribute to the city and its public schools.
Councilwoman Ana Reyes stated there was no law that declared English as the national language. She described the ordinance as “misguided.” She also called it out-of-step with the school district’s dual-language program.
Mayor Pro-Tem John Norwood foresaw no economic hit to the city in repealing the policy. He cited the Farmers Branch annual budget at $103 million, noting any anticipated costs for printed materials requiring translation would run about $1,000.
Dye noted that regardless of the English-only ordinance the state already required them to translate public health and safety information but the repeal would allow the city to offer translated marketing materials for library and park and rec programs.
The most impassioned remarks made came from Councilman Bronson Blackson who monologued on the “contributions of immigrants to the nation.” He reverently rattled off a short list of prominent American immigrants — Albert Einstein and Levi Strauss, who each emigrated from Germany; Joseph Pulitzer, Hungary; Felix Frankfurter, Austria; Madeleine Albright, Czechoslovakia; and Irving Berlin, from Russia.
“You know what he did for us?” posited Blackson about prolific songwriter Berlin born Israel Beilin. “He wrote ‘God Bless America.’”
Blackson, however, omitted, or perhaps, did not know, the circumstances behind these esteemed immigrants of Jewish heritage coming to America. Many fled Europe at different historical points because of horrific persecution ranging from the murderous anti-Semitic Russian pogroms to the heinous systematic Holocaust perpetrated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party that targeted and wiped out 6 million Jews.
He also stated, “When you ask an immigrant to assimilate to American culture and values I think it’s important to remember that American culture as we know it is originates from the very people that we’re asking to change – immigrants.”
Blackson continued, “Our first amendment guarantees us that America can be any race or religion, but nowhere does it require anyone to forego their cultural ties and their cultural ties are their language.”
He closed by quoting former U.S. President, the late Ronald Reagan. “Status quo, you know, is Latin for the mess we’re in.” Said Blackson, “It’s time to get out of the mess.”
The city council then voted to nullify the English-only ordinance with a “repealing resolution.”