In Immigration, Letters

RE: Opposing HB 4053 –“English as Official Language”

Dear Members of the Michigan House of Representatives:

The Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a membership organization of more than sixty nonprofit and faith groups working together statewide to promote a more positive and inclusive atmosphere for immigrants and refugees in Michigan. (A full list of our members is attached for informational purposes.) We oppose HB 4053, which would make English the “official language” of Michigan, because it promotes a negative and non-inclusive atmosphere for immigrants and refugees in Michigan.

If the bill has a policy goal, it is not clear what that goal is. The bill clearly states that it would not apply if there is a conflict with federal law, or if public health, safety, or justice requires the use of languages other than English. This is reassuring, since federal law, particularly Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing materials, requires meaningful access to federally funded public services and programs for people with limited English proficiency. The bill would also not apply to the instruction of foreign languages, instruction designed to aid students with limited English proficiency as part of their transition and integration into Michigan’s education system, nor in the promotion of international commerce, tourism, sporting events, or cultural events.

It is difficult to imagine anything that the state does in English or any other language that doesn’t promote health, safety, justice or one of the other listed activities. Given that and the fact that virtually all public records, public meetings, and official acts of the State of Michigan are currently conducted in English, it’s not evident that this bill has a purpose beyond reinforcing a message of dominance. However, unintended outcomes are possible. Some state agencies are already under federal investigation or subject to compliance agreements for failing to fully meet the federal standards. Enactment of a bill like this could complicate resolution and jeopardize funding and programs.

In more personal terms, our members include many immigrants and immigrant community leaders who feel targeted and vulnerable right now. Research consistently shows that providing language access in vital government services improves social cohesion and integration and has no negative impact on English language learning. We fully support HB 4619, which would improve language access for Michigan residents seeking full participation in the shared life of our state.

Most immigrants are highly motivated to learn English – if you tum on or open up any foreign-language media, English language learning products tend to be the top advertisers! We are grateful for Governor Snyder’s leadership as he has sought to promote English by establishing greater access to English language learning opportunities through the Michigan Office for New Americans. We would encourage those who champion English to engage in meaningful work to expand those efforts.

We urge you to vote against this bill. It doesn’t appear to do any good, and in fact, it could do harm.


Susan E. Reed
MCIRR Steering Committee

Member organizations provided for informational purposes:

  • The 313 Project
  • Accounting Aid Society
  • African Bureau for Immigration & Social Affairs (ABISA)
  • Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)
  • Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan
  • Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan (APIA-Vote Michigan)
  • Arbor Circle Group
  • Blue Water Safe Horizons
  • Casa Latina
  • Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan
  • Catholic Diocese of Gaylord -Secretariat for Peace and Justice
  • Catholic Services of Macomb -Immigration and Refugee Services Lapeer
  • CODE Legal Aid, Inc.
  • Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
  • Diocese of Grand Rapids Immigration Legal Services
  • Diocese of Kalamazoo Immigration Assistance Program
  • Dominican Sisters -Grand Rapids
  • Farmworker Legal Services
  • Freedom House
  • Garden of Dreams Preschool
  • Hamtramck School Based Health Center
  • Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
  • Immigrant Connection at City Life Church
  • International Affairs Center
  • International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit
  • Jewish Family Services (Detroit)
  • Justice for Our Neighbors, Southeast Michigan
  • Justice for Our Neighbors, West Michigan
  • Keys Grace Academy/Keys Management
  • Latin Americans United for Progress
  • Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development
  • Lakeshore Legal Aid, La Vida
  • Legal Aid & Defender Association, Inc.
  • Lemkin House, Inc.
  • Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates
  • SafeHouse Center
  • Samaritas (formerly LSSM)
  • Macomb International Service Center
  • Mercy Health -Saint Mary’s Clinic Santa Maria
  • Mexican American Council, Inc.
  • Migrant Legal Aid
  • Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
  • Michigan League for Public Policy
  • Michigan State University College of Law Immigration Law Clinic Michigan UU Social Justice Network
  • Noor’s Heaven of West Michigan Services
  • Oceana Hispanic Center
  • Piast Institute
  • Senior Neighbors
  • Sisters Home Visitors of Ma1y
  • Sisters of Mercy
  • Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center
  • St. Vincent Catholic Charities Immigration Law Clinic
  • Telamon Corporation
  • The Immigrant Connection at City Life Church
  • Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing
  • University of Detroit Mercy – Immigration Law Clinic
  • United Hispanic Workers of Detroit
  • Voces Battle Creek
  • Wasthenaw Health Plan
  • Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
  • Workers’ Center of West Michigan (Micah Center)
  • Yoruba American Community
  • YWCA Kalamazoo

*List current as of June 14, 2017

MC/RR is a 501{c)(3} nonprofit membership organization founded in 1989. MC/RR coordinates education and organizational efforts that build capacity within Michigan’s immigrant advocacy community; supports immigrants’ rights in federal, state, and local policy; and promotes a more positive and inclusive atmosphere for immigrants and refugees in Michigan.

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