Language Restriction Proposed In Herndon

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

A Herndon Town Council member said yesterday that the town should print official documents in English only, as a way to encourage Hispanic immigrants to learn the language.

"The language of the Commonwealth is English," said William B. Tirrell Sr., one of four new council members and a new mayor elected in May who have raised concerns about the impact of illegal immigration on the town. "All of our efforts should be toward encouraging people to learn English. This is an English-speaking country."

Tirrell first made the suggestion at the end of a council meeting Tuesday night that featured a lengthy discussion on illegal immigration. The council has passed a series of measures in recent months designed to discourage illegal immigrants from living or working in Herndon, where an estimated 40 percent of the population is of Hispanic descent.

In October, council members voted to require contractors to certify that their employees are in the country legally. The town is also looking for a new operator for its day-laborer center to ensure that workers seeking jobs have legal documents. On Tuesday, the council passed a resolution asking the Virginia General Assembly to prohibit the hiring of illegal immigrants and to grant Herndon the authority to license day-laborer sites, which help workers link up with employers.

The council took no action on Tirrell's proposal, but he said he would probably raise it again.

Town officials publish a number of documents in Spanish but could not say yesterday which ones or how many. One Spanish-language brochure, for example, outlines trash pickup schedules and procedures. When the council voted in September to apply for enrollment in a federal program to train town police officers to enforce immigration laws, officials printed a "frequently asked questions" sheet explaining the details.

Local governments in the Washington region have become more multilingual as the population has grown more diverse. Fairfax County, where more than a quarter of the 1 million residents are foreign-born, prints child welfare and traffic safety brochures in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Farsi.

Tirrell, 59, a retired Naval officer and former member of the town's Planning Commission, offered the language proposal in the course of broader comments about illegal immigration.

"It's too big a battle to fight tonight, but I don't know why we don't do everything we can possibly do to let illegal aliens know that they are not welcome here," he said, according to this week's Herndon Times. "We need to turn over all the rocks and expose what's out there."

Herndon Mayor Stephen J. DeBenedittis and council members Connie Haines Hutchinson, David A. Kirby and Charlie D. Waddell could not be reached for comment yesterday. Vice Mayor Dennis D. Husch said he "hadn't really thought about" the language issue and wanted to explore the cost implications before deciding.

Council member J. Harlon Reece called the notion impractical. "If we expect people to comply with our ordinances and they don't read or speak English, then it's counterproductive," Reece said.

Bill Threlkeld, who manages the town's day-laborer center for the nonprofit Reston Interfaith, said that such a policy would put many of his clients at a disadvantage.

"I'm a practical man, and I think people should act in a practical way," he said. For members of the Hispanic population "not ready for prime time" in English, printing critical documents in Spanish is the only alternative, he said.

Tirrell said that the issue is complicated by the poor education that many Hispanic immigrants receive before coming to the United States.

"I sense that some of these folks can't even read their own language," he said.

Threlkeld agreed, estimating that 5 to 10 percent of the immigrants he deals with are illiterate in their native language.

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