The current attacks on bilingual education are noteworthy for their political sophistication. Unz and company have managed to portray themselves as defenders of kids who want to learn English but are being stymied by education bureaucrats; they brilliantly call their campaign "English for the Children." Thus Unz and his allies have been able to rely on racist and xenophobic sentiment, while nominally distancing themselves from it. In the process, they have come across as well-meaning reformers concerned with equality and opportunity. (It is a tactic neoconservatives have honed to perfection, whether in their push for vouchers for private schools or their attack on affirmative action, as part of their strategic goal of reducing public oversight of, and government responsibility for, programs serving the common good.)
Yet the attack on bilingual education has little to do with equal opportunity. "The attack is one part racism; one part dumping on public education -- if you dump on every aspect of public education you smooth the skids for something else; one part xenophobia -- the view that if these immigrants are coming to our country, damn it, they need to learn English; and one part cheap politics," Rice argued.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is evident in more than just the attacks on bilingual education. Two years ago, for example, Congress passed get-tough legislation to stem the flow of illegal immigration into the United States. In the two years afterwards, federal authorities deported almost 300,000 immigrants -- more than twice the number sent back in the two years before, according to an analysis in The New York Times. In 98% of the deportations, the immigrants were sent back to Spanish-speaking countries.
In the last two years, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has received record budgets and consistently surpassed goals for deportations, The New York Times noted. The INS has tripled the number of beds in detention centers and local jails, and increased its personnel by 80%. The INS now has more than 15,000 officers authorized to carry weapons and make arrests -- more than any other federal agency.
For a concise, popularly written rebuttal to the conservative distortions of bilingual education, see Condemned Without a Trial: Bogus Arguments Against Bilingual Education, by Stephen Krashen (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999). This new book and others by Krashen on bilingual education are available from Language Education Associates, PO Box 3141, Culver City, CA 90231. 800-200-8008.