Fear of foreigners prompts town's 'English-only' ruling

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With a population of less than 2,000 people and neither a church nor even a petrol station to its name, the town of Jackson in upstate New York has nonetheless attracted national attention by passing a local regulation requiring that English be the only language spoken in the conduct of the town's scant official business.

The new requirement, which has drawn a protest from the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, is the latest bullet to be fired in the fusillade of anti-immigrant legislation erupting up and down the country, the most notable being the immigration law passed by Arizona last month.

That tiny Jackson would feel moved to put up the ramparts in defence of English is furrowing liberal brows. True, it is a short drive from an important border separating New York from Vermont. Not much threat there, you would imagine. Everyone who lives there speaks English, bar a few Hispanic farm labourers.

"The English language is not under attack in Jackson or anywhere else in the state or country," insists Melanie Trimble, director of the local chapter of the ACLU. She has asked that the town rescind the regulation, passed by a vote of 3 to 1 at a meeting of the town council.

The case of Jackson is another sign that fears, rational or otherwise, about immigration levels are not confined to states or communities near the Mexican border. In 2006, the town of Hazelton in Pennsylvania won national headlines after making it a crime for residents to hire or give lodgings to illegal immigrants.

And the supposed threat to English often emerges as an emotional flashpoint in the debate. "People come here because it's better than the place they were in," Roger Meyer, the Jackson councilman who proposed the regulation, told The New York Times. "If that's the case, you should be adapting yourself to our ways."