(MintPress)—Alejandrina Cabrera, a candidate for a City Council seat in a bilingual Arizona border city has been barred from the election, after officials declared that Cabrera was not proficient enough in English to serve as a public official. A Yuma County Superior Court judge said last week that Cabrera would be disqualified because there […]
(MintPress)—Alejandrina Cabrera, a candidate for a City Council seat in a bilingual Arizona border city has been barred from the election, after officials declared that Cabrera was not proficient enough in English to serve as a public official.
A Yuma County Superior Court judge said last week that Cabrera would be disqualified because there was a “large gap” between her English proficiency and that required to serve as a public official, striking her name from the March 13 ballot.
On Tuesday Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled that the city council candidate could be kept off the ballot in the predominately Spanish-speaking town of San Luis, which is situated very near the U.S. – Mexico border.
Lawyers for Cabrera told Reuters that they lacked the financial resources to appeal the decision.
“I speak little English, but my English is fine for San Luis,” Cabrera, a U.S. citizen who was born in Arizona said in an interview with the New York Times. Cabrera lived in Mexico for a portion of her childhood but returned to Arizona to finish high school, eventually graduating from Yuma’s public Kofa High School, Reuters reported. She also told the news organization that while her command of English was not perfect she can read it, understand and respond.
While in high school she was a classmate of current town mayor, Juan Carlos Escamilla, who filed the initial lawsuit claiming Cabrera’s English was insufficient to hold elected office.
In an exclusive interview with Mint Press, Mayor Escamilla said that he wished the situation had not gone to the level it did, but he was “satisfied with the outcome” and the findings of the court.
“This is not about racism or personal gain, this is about obeying what the law says, and doing what is best for the community,” Escamilla, who is also Mexican-American, said from his office in Arizona.
“I am Hispanic, my wife is Hispanic…I love my heritage, but that doesn’t mean we should’nt speak English,” Escamillia said with a thick Spanish accent.
Cabrera told the Washington Post that some of the issues she was concerned about in her community included the cost of water skyrocketing, roughly tripling under Escamilla’s tenure, and that Escamilla fired a dozen city employees while padding the paychecks of his inner circle. Cabrera has tried twice to recall Mayor Escamilla after the council laid off employees to cut spending and increased utility rates.
The ethnic background of the small farming community of 25,000 is just over 94 percent Hispanic. The city’s official website can be viewed in both English and Spanish, and most city offices have prerecorded messages in both English and Spanish that greet callers.
After the mayor’s suit was filed, Cabrera was submitted to language proficiency testing by the courts, in which linguistics consultant William Eddington concluded that Cabrera possessed sufficient knowledge of English to survive but not to fulfill the responsibilities of a council member, the Yuma Sun reported. Cabrera’s attorneys have alleged that Eddington’s Australian accent made it difficult for Cabrera to understand him, and may have contributed to his determination that her English abilities were below par.
The paper also said that attorneys for Cabrera had argued that while state law requires public office holders in Arizona to know English, it does not establish specific levels of proficiency that they are required to meet, and removing Cabrera from the ballot would constitute a violation of her constitutional rights.
John Minore, one of Cabrera’s attorneys called the action “unbelievable” telling the Sun, “This is a fine example of judicial activism. Arizona now has a English standard to be on a ballot but doesn’t tell you what that standard is. It’s amazing that people in government who are in power can spend taxpayer money to keep people off the ballot.”
A nearly century-old Arizona state statute disqualifies “a person who is unable to speak, write and read the English language” from public office. Arizona requires office-holders to speak, read and write English, similar to many other states, but the law doesn’t say how well. While there is no official language in the U.S., the issue is one often mentioned in political spheres.
Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, while running her short-lived campaign for the U.S. presidential race, said she would fence the entire Mexican border and enforce English as the official language of the U.S. government. All of the current Republican presidential candidates have supported making English the official language of the U.S.
Arizona has recently become a hotbed for issues pertaining to race and racism. In 2010 Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration into law. Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which aimed to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants, was highly controversial. Under it, the failure to carry immigration documents was deemed a crime and police were given broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Opponents said the measure was an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status, according to a report in the New York Times. Legal challenges over its constitutionality and compliance with civil rights law were filed by several groups including the United States Department of Justice, and a day before the law was to take effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the law’s most controversial provisions. Arizona has sought, unsuccessfully, to reverse that decision in the federal appeals courts.
And more recently Mint Press reported that the Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) voted 4-1 to terminate its nationally-acclaimed Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in order to comply with Arizona House Bill 2281, which places limitations on ethnic studies programs in schools.
As for Cabrera, the stay-at-home mother of two and Democratic activist has’nt announced any further plans to run for office, but one get the sense that this isn’t the last word America will hear from her.
“I like to help the people, help my community,” Cabrera said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Not only for the Hispanics, but for all race, all people.”