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Making English the Official Language in Michigan, racism, anti-immigration groups and the DeVos Family connection

February 26, 2018

Last Thursday, the Michigan House of Representatives voted to make English the official language for the State of Michigan. The measure passed by a 62 – 46 vote, mostly along party lines, with the majority of Republicans voting in favor of the legislation.

The language of House Bill 4053 can be found here, which basically makes English the official language in terms of state government functioning; including meetings, documents, the public record, etc. 

The bill was introduced last year by Rep. Tom Barrett, with Triston ColeAaron MillerGary GlennLana TheisPeter LucidoShane HernandezLee Chatfield being co-sponsors. Those giving the most to the campaigns of these state representatives can be found on the Michigan Campaign Finance Network link on donor tracking

We found that most of the state representatives that sponsored the English only bill have primarily funded the bulk of their own campaigns. The exception is Rep. Tom Barrett, who introduced the bill. You can see below how much money they have received from primary funders.

Rep. Tom Barrett House – Republican Campaign Committee, $448,009, 

Rep. Tristin Cole – self-funded $10,170

Rep. Aaron Miller – self-funded $8,370

Rep. Gary Glenn – self-funded $119,720

Rep Lana Theis – self-funded $40,000

Rep Peter Lucido – self-funded $236,000

Rep. Shane Hernandez, Sydesign – self-funded $10,580

Rep. Lee Chatfield – self-funded $78,000

There is no record of a public hearing, so we don’t know if there were any organizations or individuals who lobbied for or against this legislation.  The bill was sent to the Government Operations Committee in June, which is chaired by Rep. Lee Chatfield and includes Rep. Tom Barrett, both co-sponsors of the HB 4053. 

It is unfortunate that there is no record of a public hearing, as we don’t know if there were groups pushing to get this legislation passed. We do know that there are organizations, which have been advocating for English as the official language of states and the entire country, particularly the group US English

US English regular updates from states where there is current legislation around making English the official language and the section under Latest News has an update on Michigan, which states: 

Like other Official English legislation enacted over the years, H.B. 4053 is a common sense measure meant to reinforce English as our common language and to set a standard of expectation that Government and society will do more to encourage and enable the learning of English for residents. Far from an exclusionary measure, H.B. 4053 simply makes it clear that English is the sole language that must be used and available for all Government business, official acts and public records. Clear common sense exceptions are made for consistency with all federal law, teaching in language classes, the promotion of commerce, tourism, sporting events and public events, and occasions where “public safety, health and justice” would be served by the use of a language other than English at the discretion of state and local agencies.

This language might sound benign, but if you look closer at the history of US English tells us a different story.

US English was founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton and Senator S. I. Hayakawa in 1983. John Tanton, a known white supremacist is also founder of groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Center for Immigration Studies . Both of these organizations are known anti-immigration groups that support closed borders.

According to SourceWatch, “In 1988, a set of internal memoranda from John Tanton to staff at the Federation for American Immigration Reform and U.S. English was leaked to the press. In them, Tanton warned of a coming “Latin onslaught,” questioned whether Latinos were as “educable” as others, and worried that Latinos were outbreeding whites.” 

In looking at the major donors to US English it lists the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, which has contributed $248,000 over the following years: 1998, 2000-2001, 2003-2008. Looking at recent 990s from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, there is no current funding to US English, however, the US English website still lists Mrs. Richard DeVos as a member of its Advisory Board (listed above on the right).

HB 4053 is clearly a racist piece of legislation that will only solidify White Supremacy into law. It is also clear that the DeVos Family has a history of funding the largest group in the country that promotes the idea that English should be the official language of states and the federal government. Add this to the long list of reasons why the DeVos Family should be viewed as imposing far right values and laws on the rest of us, values and laws that should be resisted.

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