Coffman To Minority Language Voters: “Pull Out a Dictionary”

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), left, with anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), left, with anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

​Rep. Mike Coffman has spent a great deal of time in recent months "reaching out" to the many ethnic groups in the new Sixth Congressional District, working hard to burnish his credentials with Asian and African immigrants in addition to his now-famous reversals on immigration policy–all directly intended to appease the large percentage of immigrant and ethnic minority voters in his district.

But as we've explored at length since Coffman began his transformation from Tom Tancredo's firebrand successor to embattled incumbent desperately trying to win over constituencies he routinely disparaged before redistricting, Coffman wasn't always such a nice guy to immigrants–especially where it concerns duties of citizenship like voting rights. Back in the summer of 2011, "Old Coffman" actually proposed the repeal of a section of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires bilingual ballots be distributed to qualifying minority language populations.

It's hard to imagine today's Mike Coffman seriously proposing to repeal part of the Voting Rights Act to make it harder for some of the very same immigrant communities he's courting today to vote, but in 2011, Coffman defended his "cost saving" proposal in surprisingly blunt terms. Here's a video clip from Spanish-language Univision News where Coffman explains his 2011 position–with translation below:

OLIVIA MENDOZA: To me, this is a big step backward. 
 
DANIEL TUCCIO: Disagreement was to be expected by pro immigrant rights advocacy groups  who are angry over the Congressman's position.
 
MIKE COFFMAN: One thing they ought to do is pull out a dictionary when they are at home, because the ballots have been sent to them a long time in advance. [Pols emphasis] They can seek help from friends who speak English, look up words they do not know; sometimes you have to put a little more effort to assimilate into our culture.
 
TUCCIO: Olivia Mendoza disagrees.

MENDOZA: The foundation of this country is the participation of citizens of the United States in our democracy. When we begin to say that it costs us too much to have citizens engaged…what country are we going to become?

"What country are we going to become?" If "Old Coffman" had gotten his way, it seems we'd be a nation where immigrants who want to vote "pull out a dictionary!" Nobody's going to argue that immigrants should never bother to learn English, but English proficiency is not a requirement for citizens to vote in America. That's why we have a Voting Rights Act to help make sure it doesn't become a requirement, de facto or otherwise.

Bottom line: "New Coffman®" should be really upset at "Old Coffman" for this one.

23 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit!bullshit! says:

    Como se dice "douchebag" en Espanol?

  2. dwyer says:

    Wait a minute.  You do not have to know English to be born in the United States.  But to become a citizen, if you were born elsewhere. you do.  Here is the statement and the link.

    "You must also prove that you know English and have a rudimentary understanding of American politics and history" 

    Here is the link: 

    http://www.us-immigration.com/cart/category/us-citizenship.html

    The reason ballots are printed in Spanish is that many years ago under the Voting Rights Act,(or a suit brought to clarify the Voting Rights Act)  if a certain percentage of US CITIZENS in a given area did NOT speak English, then the ballots had to be bilingual.  Colorado had the requisite perpcentage of spanish speakers…..many in the San Luis Valley and other parts of the state, and others the natural born children of non-English speaking immigrants.

    Coffman does not know his history.

    • bullshit!bullshit! says:

      Weird, why can't I comment? Getting an internal server error

    • bullshit!bullshit! says:

      Ugh. So now it's working. Here was my response to you dwyer:

      The truth is, many people become U.S. citizens without language skills enough to complete a ballot, and many more American citizens need information in their own language to make an informed choice. Here's what the Department of Justice says about Section 203 of the VRA, the provision Coffman wanted to repeal:

      http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/sec_203/203_brochure.php

      The law covers those localities where there are more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens in a single political subdivision (usually a county, but a township or municipality in some states) who are members of a single minority language group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well. Political subdivisions also may be covered through a separate determination for Indian Reservations.

      Determinations are based on data from the most recent Census, and the determinations are made by the Director of the Census. The listof jurisdictions covered under Section 203 can be found at the web site of the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

      What languages are covered under Section 203?

      Section 203 targets those language minorities that have suffered a history of exclusion from the political process: Spanish, Asian, Native American, and Alaskan Native. The Census Bureau identifies specific language groups for specific jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, two or more language minority groups are present in numbers sufficient to trigger the Section 203 requirements.

      • dwyer says:

        @bullshit

        Thank you very much for the citation and explanation.  
        Coloradopols and Coffman, I think,  assume that everyone who does not speak/read English is an immigrant. That is not true.

        English proficiency is not a requirement for citizenship.  Proving that you know English is not exactly the same as being proficient,  That was the point I wanted to make, also.  

        • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

          We are of course talking about U.S. citizens, since only U.S. citizens can vote. You're correct that not all non-English language households are comprised of immigrants, but they very commonly are, and we meant "immigrant" with no offense. The law refers to "minority language populations," and so do we in our post.

          We'll change "immigrant" to "minority language" in the subject to help clarify.

        • bullshit!bullshit! says:

          Sure thing. But you're wrong about something important, dwyer. In Colorado, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act covers Hispanic populations in three places: Costilla County, Rio Grande County, and DENVER. Costilla and Rio Grande are perhaps more like what you say, but in Denver where the vast majority of Colorado's Section 203 covered population lives, you are indeed talking about a shit ton of Spanish speaking recent immigrants.

          I get that the Spanish land grant settlers of the SLV are entitled to protection, BUT THAT'S NOT WHO COFFMAN WAS TARGETING. Coffman wants to make it harder for U.S. citizens who don't speak English to vote, period. And that includes lots and lots of immigrants.

          I don't see the need you see to distinguish at all, but definitely don't minimize the plight of immigrant citizens. They are indeed who the VRA was passed to protect.

          • dwyer says:

            @Bullshit,

            I don't mean to minimize the plight of immigrant citizens.  I appreciate Coloradopols clarification.

            Bilingualism was an issue in the 1980s, prior to the great influx of immigrants from Mexico.  Advocates for bilingualism wanted to protect the Spanish language and wanted children of Spanish speaking parents to learn both languages.  I also was reacting to Coffman's remark about "sometimes you have to put a little more effort to assimilate into our culture.
              – See more at: http://coloradopols.com/diary/57088/old-coffman-to-minority-language-voters-pull-out-a-dictionary#comment-547147

            Time was when those would have been fighting words among Indian tribes as well as Hispanic communities.  

            Thanks again for the citation.

    • langelomisteriosolangelomisterioso says:

      You call someone who can speak two languages bilingual and someone who can speak three triligual, someone who can speak three or more is multilingual or polyglot. They call someone who can only speak one language , and usually badly at that, an American. In the state where I'm currently living it was not unusual up until a few years ago to hear a foreign language as the family's preferred or on the streets as old friends met and conversed.

  3. dwyer says:

    Appros of absolutely nothing, I am the grandchild of resident aliens who refused to learn English.

  4. ModeratusModeratus says:

    This story is three years old, and obviously meant to inflame Latinos against Coffman. But why didn't it work in 2012?

    Maybe because the immigrants Coffman is reaching out to in CD-6 value English too? I'll bet there are many Korean and Ethiopian Americans who are contemptuous of those who come to this nation but refuse to learn the language – then expect to vote. Civic duty is a two way street.

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