E.g., 04/10/2020
E.g., 04/10/2020

Language, Advocacy, and the U.S. Presidential Election

By: Maria Pulcini (Policy Analyst) - Joint National Committee for Languages & National Council for Languages and International Studies

17 October 2016

Since the onset of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign last spring, JNCL-NCLIS has been actively keeping the Language Enterprise on the map for the presidential hopefuls and their transition teams. Since its foundation in 1976, JNCL-NCLIS has been involved in advocacy efforts in the United States to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and use English and at least one other language.

Advocacy in preparation for an incoming administration is a multi-step process, the goals of which are to establish awareness of key language issues among members of the incoming administration and to cultivate their support for programs and policies.

Presidential Advocacy

For the 2016 U.S. election cycle, the process began when JNCL-NCLIS sent a campaign questionnaire to all presidential campaigns of the Republican and Democratic parties last January asking direct, policy-specific questions about how each candidate would support world languages if elected. We also took a careful look at which of the nearly two dozen campaigns had information available on their websites in Spanish.

Later, as the campaign season approached the parties’ national conventions and the pool of candidates for each party narrowed, JNCL-NCLIS sent policy statements to the party committees responsible for drafting the official party platforms (you can see the language issues addressed by each party in the charts at the bottom of this article).

Now, as we enter the final throes of the campaign wherein candidates make their final considerations to ensure a smooth administrative transition if elected, JNCL-NCLIS is working on a transition plan.

With the primary goal of raising awareness for key language issues, the transition plan compiles overviews of programs and detailed information about their impact on the national interest. This is no simple feat. Federal support for languages in the United States runs the gamut of government policy, including grant programs for world languages in the U.S. Department of Education (USED); funding for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), Defense Language National Security Education Office (DLNSEO), as well as incentive bonuses to armed services members with language expertise within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD); numerous overseas exchange programs with language foci within the U.S. Department of State (DoS); and myriad other agencies including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to name a few.

The more critical element of the transition is, therefore, coordination. In terms of an overall strategy, JNCL and NCLIS want the White House to provide meaningful leadership on language in the next administration. This has largely been left to individual departments and agencies of government in the current administration, with one exception: the Interagency Working Group on Language and Communication, an initiative of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). As the candidates work with their transition teams on identifying individuals for leadership roles and formulating policy priorities, JNCL-NCLIS will continue to work with its members and partner organizations on the transition plan, which helps us and them leverage our collective access to the campaigns and the transition staffs.

Institutional Advocacy

In addition to approaching each campaign and the presumed staff of the incoming administration, JNCL-NCLIS will also be working to cement connections among the career civil servants in other parts of the Executive Branch, namely the U.S. Departments of Education, State, and Defense in order to effectively advocate language policy.

Over the last few years of the current administration, JNCL-NCLIS and its member organizations have maintained steady interaction with the Offices of International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE, English Language Acquisition (OELA), International Affairs (IAO), and Early Learning (OEL) at USED, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at DoS, and with the language personnel in the defense and intelligence communities. Though a new administration will bring a new vision with new policies, priorities, and strategies to the White House, it is the career civil servants who have the institutional memory of the programs a given office administers.

Congressional Advocacy

Finally, while we work on the transition plan for the incoming administration, we will, of course, continue our advocacy work with the Congress. Appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 are currently being negotiated, with the September 30 deadline for a funding bill having been met by a stop-gap continuing resolution (CR) that maintains funding at FY2016 levels. The CR will take us through the election until December 11, after which we anticipate either another CR to carry us through the 2017 inauguration, or an omnibus package.

In either case, JNCL-NCLIS continues its advocacy on behalf of the Language Enterprise to Members of Congress and their staff through meetings, briefings, and calls to action for language advocates around the country.

Language Advocacy Day

This being an active year for advocacy also means that 2017 Language Advocacy Day will be particularly important, as there will be new staff in the Executive Branch and new members of Congress, all of whom will welcome your efforts to educate them about the importance of what we all do every day in the Language Enterprise.

In addition to meeting with Congressional and Executive Branch offices, attendees also learn practices for local- and state-level advocacy, and network with professionals from all walks of the Language Enterprise. The event will take place at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill on February 16-17, 2017. The timing is high-tide for appropriations, and Washington, DC will be abuzz with advocates for any and every issue visiting their elected officials. Language is no exception!

Consider joining JNCL-NCLIS in February as we work to elevate the profile of the Language Enterprise to the incoming U.S. administration, Executive Branch, and new and returning Members of the 115th Congress.


Language Issues Addressed in the Republican Party Platform

Immigration and the Rule of Law. The Republican Party “both encourage[s] the preservation of heritage tongues and support[s] English as the nation’s official language.” (p. 25).

Honoring Our Relationship with American Indians. The Republican Party “support[s] efforts to ensure equitable participation in federal programs by American Indians, including Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, and to preserve their culture and languages that we consider to be national treasures.” (p. 29).

Choice in Education. The Republican Party  states that “To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society.” (p. 34)

Family of the Americas. The Republican Party states that “Family, language, culture, environment, and trade link us closely with both Canada and Mexico.” (p. 50).


Language Issues Addressed in the Democratic Party Platform

Fixing our Broken Immigration System. The Democratic Party “will invest in culturally-appropriate immigrant integration services, expand access to English language education, and promote naturalization to help the millions of people who are eligible for citizenship take that last step.” (p. 17).

Guaranteeing Civil Rights. The Democratic Party “will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability… It is unacceptable to target, defame, or exclude anyone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” (p. 18).

Honoring Indigenous Tribal Nations. The Democratic Party “will manage for tribal sacred places, and empower tribes to maintain and pass on traditional religious beliefs, languages, and social practices without fear of discrimination or suppression. ” (p. 22). The Democratic Party “support[s] proactive actions by the federal government to enhance Native Hawaiian culture, health, language, and education.” (p. 23).

Protect Voting Rights, Fix Our Campaign Finance System, and Restore Our Democracy. The Democratic Party “will ensure that election officials comply with voting protections, including provisions mandating bilingual materials and voter assistance.” (p.24).

Strengthening Management of Federal Government. The Democratic Party “believe[s] that government services should be culturally and linguistically appropriate and that data should be disaggregated for those communities, like Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, where it is necessary to fully understand and address their needs.” (p. 26).

Guaranteeing Universal Preschool and Good Schools for Every Child. The Democratic Party “will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.” (p. 32) and “oppose[s] high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing;” (p. 33). The Democratic Party believes that “Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools.” (p. 34).

Securing Universal Health Care. The Democratic Party “believe[s] that all health care services should be culturally and linguistically appropriate, and that neither fear nor immigration status should be barriers that impede health care access.” (p. 35).


About JNCL-NCLIS: The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Languages and International Studies represent over 115 organizations and companies in the language enterprise, advocating for languages  from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.