Members of the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation today sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seeking justification and clarification for a letter the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson threatening Oklahoma with a loss of federal funding if the state passed a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the state.
The original DOJ letter, characterized by delegation members as dubiously timed at the peak of legislative debate, advises the state that "implementation of this [English-only] amendment may conflict with Oklahoma's obligations to protect the civil rights of limited English proficient (LEP) persons."
Dated April 14, 2009 from Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, the DOJ letter states, "As you know, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with various civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin." The letter continues, "State agencies and other entities in Oklahoma that receive federal financial assistance thus would be precluded by federal law from abiding by an English-only requirement where it conflicts with their obligations under Title VI."
The Oklahoma Congressional Delegation's letter to Holder points out that several other states have passed similar legislation and asks if they too have been "accused by the Department of Justice to be in violation with Title VI, or formally threatened with funding termination." The delegation letter asks for an explanation for what prompted the DOJ to write the state of Oklahoma on this issue and seeks explanation for what funds would be eliminated should Oklahomans pass the English only amendment.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe stated, "This nation's cultural diversity is one that contributes to the greatness of our country. I support the state's effort to pass a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the state because it ultimately facilitates better communication across the many lines of diversity within our state. The state legislature has overwhelmingly passed this amendment, and now it is up to the voters of Oklahoma to decide if they wish to accept it. It is entirely unacceptable for the federal government to try to strong arm the state by threatening to remove federal funding. I look forward to hearing the Justice Department's explanation for such behavior."
Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. said, "Secretary Holder owes the residents of Oklahoma an explanation as to why this thinly veiled threat was issued to Oklahoma on a state matter. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a bureaucrat in Washington dictating more of what we can and cannot do. Officials at the Department of Justice should focus on more pressing matters under their jurisdiction before issuing statements about a state issue that has yet to become law."
Rep. Dan Boren said, "The state of Oklahoma deserves a clear explanation of why it seems the Department of Justice has singled out the state and threatened funding retribution over a State Legislature initiative that has been approved in other states already. I join my colleagues in urging the Department to give us a full account of their actions on this issue."
Rep. John Sullivan said, "It is inappropriate for the United States Department of Justice to interfere in what is ultimately a state matter. In 2010, voters in Oklahoma will decide if the state constitution will be amended to make English the official language of the state and I proudly stand with the rest of the state delegation in supporting Oklahoma's right to decide this issue."
Rep. Frank Lucas added, "Our country benefits from the diversity of our people. However, throughout our history, it has been our common language that binds us as one nation. In order for new immigrants to our country to be successful and realize the American Dream, they must be able to speak the English language. Punishing the state of Oklahoma for encouraging that is unnecessary."
Rep. Mary Fallin said, "This incident should send shock waves through every state in the union. The letter from DOJ is an affront to Oklahoma's tenth amendment rights under the Constitution. We should be allowed to pursue this policy without facing preemptive manipulation from the federal government."