Immigration reform has receded—at least temporarily—in Washington. But a historically fraught question is primed to return when legislators again pick up the matter: should English be America’s official language? About 30 states already have English-only laws requiring them to conduct official business in the mother tongue, with some exceptions. Most of these laws passed during prior bouts of border anxiety: in the mid-’80s (when 3 million illegal immigrants got amnesty) and the mid-’90s (when the GOP gained control of the House).
Now there’s a third wave. About 10 additional states have passed “official English” laws through at least one legislative body since immigration reform broke down in 2006, and Oklahoma voters are expected to approve an English-only ballot initiative this fall, highlighting the appeal of language laws once more. Four states have proposed specific English-only driving tests (it’ll be five if Tim James is elected governor in Alabama). Critics, of course, allege xenophobia. But Tim -Schultz, of the advocacy group U.S. English, says these measures promote unity.