Nov 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Allentown voters keep English as the city's official language

A voter arrives to drop off her ballot during early voting in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Oct. 29, 2020.
A voter drops off her ballot during early voting in Allentown, Pa., on Oct. 29, 2020. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Residents of Allentown, Pennsylvania, voted 2 to 1 this week to keep English as the official language of the largely Latino city.

Why it matters: About 43% of Allentown residents speak a language other than English at home, with most speaking Spanish. Latinos make up about 54% of Allentown's residents, most are Puerto Rican.

  • More than 6,000 people voted to keep English as the official language, about twice the number that favored its removal, according to Lehigh County.
  • Julio Guridy, council president and sponsor of the ordinance, said that the lack of voter turnout, specifically among the Latinos, resulted in the initiative's defeat.

What they're saying: "Having the majority means nothing if Latinos don't go out, educate themselves and vote," Guridy said.

Catch up quick: Former City Council member Emma Tropiano, who had once falsely claimed that the Latino population caused 99% of Allentown's crime increases, introduced the provision in 1992, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • The provision was approved two years later at the height of anti-immigrant legislation around the country.
  • Arizona passed a similar measure in 1988, making English the language "of all government functions and actions." However, the state's Supreme Court later deemed the law unconstitutional, per the New York Times.
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