New Mexico in effect "has adopted Spanish as a quasiofficial language."
"The state has protected it and given it special status," she wrote in arguing for enhanced procedural due process rights for Spanish-only speakers.
Laws require bilingualism
New Mexico's election laws are peppered with Spanishlanguage requirements.
Proposed constitutional changes must be printed on the ballot in Spanish and English, for example, as must the samples of the text of each amendment that the secretary of state distributes to county clerks.
Sample ballots, official ballots, primary election proclamations, information about registration and voting, voter registration certificates -- all must be printed in both Spanish and English.
In New Mexico public schools, about 60,000 students -- or about 20 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade -- are designated as Englishlanguage learners, according to Icela Pelayo, director of the Public Education Department's Bilingual Multicultural Education Bureau. About 70 percent of them are Spanish speakers.
New Mexico is in the forefront of providing language access in the judicial system, according to Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Most commonly, the need is for Spanish, but the courts must accommodate speakers of dozens of languages. There are interpreters -- employees or contractors -- available for district, magistrate and metropolitan courts. Outside courtrooms, bilingual or multilingual court staffers get special training and extra pay to provide language access services to customers.
Not only Spanish
The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled "we have a robust right to access, regardless of language skills," Pepin said.
In 2000, for example, the high court said potential jurors could not be disqualified just because they don't speak English. The justices denied a request from then-District Attorney -- now governor -- Susana Martinez to overturn a Las Cruces judge's ruling that non-Englishspeaking people could not be kept off juries.
In a 2002 ruling involving cases of Navajo speakers, the Supreme Court ruled trials must be postponed when no interpreter is available for potential jurors who have difficulty speaking English.
The state Legislature in 1989 passed a nonbinding "English Plus" resolution. It advocates the teaching of languages other than English and says proficiency in more than one language "is to the economic and cultural benefit of our state and the nation."
"The intentions of early New Mexicans, who succeeded in securing statehood, are clear and enduring," Romero wrote in her New Mexico Law Review article. "Past and present policies make clear that Spanish-speaking individuals, by virtue of the language they speak, have a unique standing in this state."
(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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