M. David Stirling- Contributor
served in the California Assembly between 1976 and 1982,
and as chief deputy attorney general from 1991 to 1998. He
is vice president of Pacific
Legal Foundation, a public interest
[go to Stirling index]
Legacy of Multilingualism
Accomodating immigrants over reason....
[M. David Stirling] 10/4/04
to Time Magazine’s Sept. 13 cover story, “Who
Left the Door Open?” – reporting who is coming into
the country illegally and how they’re getting here – the
debate will be getting a lot hotter in coming months.
From the information
Time’s investigation revealed, the
Drudge Report estimates “that the number of illegal aliens
flooding into the U.S. this year (2004) will total 3 million.” In
Arizona alone, 4,000 illegal aliens are entering from Mexico
in a single day, according to Time. With the Immigration and
Naturalization Service estimating eight to 12 million illegal
immigrants already residing in the U.S., the thought of a 25
to 37 percent increase in one year is sobering.
As the number of illegal
immigrants continues to swell, and the demands by pro-immigrant
activist organizations and elected
officials for increased services to this group grow bolder, the
question of what language should be spoken in providing those
services is also getting hotter. The nonprofit group ProEnglish reports that over half the states already have English as their
official language. Although polls continually show the American
people strongly opposed to multilingual government, their government
is already quite far down the road. Because it was deliberately
done without fanfare, few Americans are aware that a federal
edict issued during the waning months of the Clinton administration
raised “immigrant rights” to a whole new level.
In August 2000, President Clinton issued an executive order
mandating that all physicians, clinics, hospitals and other medical
care providers who receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement
for treating patients with limited English proficiency, or LEP,
provide to those patients full interpreter and translator services
in their own languages. Just to understand the scope of the mandate,
consider that the United States Commission on Civil Rights reports
there are as many as 500 different languages and dialects spoken
by persons residing in the U.S.
In addition, the mandate forces these medical care professionals
to ensure the competency of the medical translation and interpreter
services they provide. And even though federal Medicare and Medicaid
reimbursements rarely cover the actual costs of the medical services
rendered, the full financial burden of providing the mandated
language assistance services to LEP patients is placed solely
on the medical care providers themselves; the federal government
does not contribute anything to this huge financial and administrative
Yet, under this edict,
an LEP patient’s complaint to federal
authorities that the medical professional failed to provide competent
language services in his native tongue automatically triggers
a federal investigation, following which the doctor or hospital
can lose federal reimbursement and right to future participation
in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Worst yet, the LEP patient’s
complaint can lead to a federal charge of intentional “national
origin” discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
which pro-immigrant activist groups will seize upon to publicly
accuse the doctor or hospital of racism.
Some may be wondering
how this monumental change in law and public policy could have
occurred – whereby a bureaucracy-bloated
federal agency (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
directly interferes with the age-old doctor-patient relationship
by dictating how they must communicate. There was no act of Congress.
The federal government didn’t even give the nation’s
doctors, hospitals and other directly affected health-care providers
and associations the opportunity to point out why this idea was
an oppressive solution to a nonexistent problem. The edict took
effect immediately upon issuance.
In July 1997, Clinton
nominated civil-rights activist Bill Lann Lee as assistant
attorney general for civil rights at the U.S.
Department of Justice. Because Lee’s aggressive – many
considered it extreme – civil-rights record turned off
members of the Republican-controlled Senate, he was denied confirmation
to the position. Other than a recess appointment, which would
have lasted only a few months, there was no other legal means
by which Lee could be seated as head of the civil rights division.
Nonetheless, at the president’s insistence, Lee was sworn
in and became the government’s chief civil rights lawyer.
A pro-immigrant activist
and vigorous proponent of multilingual government, Lee immediately
set out to insure that the nation’s
LEP immigrant population – especially the 8 to 12 million
people in the country illegally – would be spoken to in
their native tongues by participants in federally funded programs.
Because he had been rejected by the Republicans that controlled
Congress, Lee needed a vehicle that was outside of Congress’ reach.
He found just such a vehicle in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Act prohibits “discrimination under any program or
activity receiving Federal financial assistance” against
any person in the United States “on the grounds of race,
color, or national origin.” (Title VI.) By expanding the
traditional meaning of the term “national origin” to
include “language” – a different concept that
Congress could have written into the Act in 1964 or at any time
since, but did not – Lee had in short order created a new
form of discrimination that could be enforced under the Act.
Once “language” became synonymous with “national
origin,” Lee knew that his goal of forcing participants
in federally funded programs to become multilingual service provider
would be accomplished. On Aug. 11, 2000, Clinton signed Executive
Order 13166, codifying Lee’s expanded definition of “national
Dr. Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association
of American Physicians and Surgeons, recently expressed the profound
concern this federal mandate presents for medical professionals:
was promised as a method to help senior citizens pay their
bill. To get the bill passed, the government promised never,
ever to interfere with the practice of medicine.
rule is yet one more attempt to dictate the way
that physicians care for patients. If physicians accept payment
through a federal program, the federal government claims the
authority to tell them how they must communicate with patients
who may not be proficient in English. The rules are so broad
and vague that physicians will never be sure that they are
in compliance. Thus, the government claims the right to judge,
or years later, whether communication was satisfactory.
Dr. Orient also decries
that this edict “gives patients
who claim lack of English proficiency grounds to sue the doctor
any time there is a less than perfect outcome, complaining of
failure to comply with the federal rule. This requires physicians
to divert attention and resources from efforts that they think
serve patients best in order to attempt to satisfy federal officials.”
Once, Americans were
a people who warmly welcomed immigrants from all over the world,
while gently encouraging and embracing
the learning of English. Today, our government mandates that
the thousands of non-English-speaking, indigent immigrants who
pour into the country illegally be spoken to in their native
language by the nation’s physicians and hospitals, while
it prosecutes and castigates the physicians and hospitals whom
it decides have not adequately complied with the government’s
the medical professionals. Who will it be next? CRO
Stirling is vice president of the public-interest legal organization
Pacific Legal Foundation. PLF’s recently filed lawsuit on
behalf of several medical professionals challenges the legality
of the government edict described in this article.
This commentary first appeared at WorldNetDaily.com.
2004 Pacific Legal Foundation