Daryl Metcalfe’s “English-Only” Bill Hurts Philly

Prohibition on foreign-language services would undermine efforts to integrate immigrants.

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 8.28.59 PMOnce again, Daryl Metcalfe is screwing with Philadelphia.

That may not be an obvious implication of the Butler Republican’s decision this week to introduce an “English-only” bill in the Pennsylvania House. Its ostensible purpose — aside from tossing a holy hand grenade in the culture wars — is to save state residents the crushing, burdensome expense of printing the occasional government form in Spanish.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers simply cannot afford, and should not continue to be required, to foot the bill for government translating and printing infinite amounts of forms, documents and publications in many languages other than English,” Metcalfe harumphed in the press release announcing the bill.

(Infinite means “endless,” of course, and it seems like Metcalfe might be exaggerating a bit: Here’s a list of all the documents related to driving and getting a driver’s license in Pennsylvania; of roughly 100 forms, brochures, and pamphlets on the topic, roughly six have non-English titles. Scary.)

But yeah, Metcalfe’s bill is a particular burden on Philadelphia. Some reasons:

• Metcalfe, overreacher that he is, isn’t content to prohibit the state government from printing bureaucratic documents in any language but English. His bill also prohibits local governments from doing the same. (Once again, the Republican hypocrisy on matters involving “local control” is nothing less than astounding.)

• The “foreign-born” population of Philadelphia amounts to about 12 percent of the city’s residents — twice the state average. (In pure numbers, it’s far and away the largest immigrant population in the state.) About half of those residents speak English less than “very well,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The major languages are Spanish, a variety of Chinese dialects, Vietnamese, Russian, and a melange of others.)

• Metcalfe’s bill arrives just as City Hall is making strides to ensure those populations are well-served by local government. A City Council committee was supposed to hold hearings on Thursday, in fact, about efforts to expand access by “language minority” residents to city services. (The hearing was canceled for unrelated reasons.) In just the last few years, Mayor Nutter has established an Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs to connect new residents to a variety of helpful services.

Why? Not to pander to the foreign hordes or lard them up with welfare paid for by hard-working Americans, but to make them better citizens of their new home — “to improve the integration and inclusion of newcomers, language and cultural minorities into the social and economic fabric of the city,” as Mayor Nutter has said.

We all benefit: The rise of immigration here has stemmed the the decline in Philadelphia’s population that last last 50 years; the uptick in residents, however small, has given the city a welcome shot of self-confidence after decades of mopery and doom-saying. Because we think we’re more vibrant, we may actually be more vibrant.

Metcalfe’s bill threatens all of that.

No surprise. Metcalfe’s particular brand of right-wing populism needs Philadelphia as a counterpoint. Remember, he’s the guy who silenced gay Rep. Brian Sims on the House floor; the guy who referred to SEPTA as “welfare,” a guy who loves guns and hates gay marriage. Our city makes an easy villain for somebody with his worldview. And he’s not a live-and-let-live kind of guy.

Still: He’s not going to have to live with the consequences of his own bill.

In Butler County, where Metcalfe lives, only 2 percent of the population is foreign-born — about a third of the state average. Metcalfe’s friends and neighbors aren’t groaning under the burden of expensive bilingual government forms; he doesn’t have to worry that making life harder for those residents will create problems for his friends and neighbors.

It’s Philadelphia that suffers. It’s Philadelphia that’s deprived of the opportunity to make its own governing decisions. It would be nice if Metcalfe could just leave us alone.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.