There is no rational basis for making language ability an indicator of an individual’s citizenship or residency status.
That sentence appears in an open letter issued by the Moderrn Language Association (MLA) to the Governor of Arizona in protest of the law passed by its legislature requiring law enforcement officers to check the residency status of anyone they lawfully stop for other reasons whose residency status the officer has reason to doubt. The Supreme Court has already held that an officer who stopped a car full of people in the early morning and found that none could speak English and none had legal ID was within his rights in taking them to the Federal Immigration Center, where they were found to be "undocumented" (some say, "illegal aliens.')
"There is no rational basis" is a huge claim to defend. Why not claim instead that there is merely insufficient reational basis? That while there may be SOME reason to think that people who cannot speak English may be foreigners and therefore may be undocumented, the preponderance of reason is on the other side, Surely, a skillful reasoner will defend the easier to defend proposition. But not the MLA. Instead, they make a demonstrably false claim. The reason for the blunder is that they want to influence a court: "no rational basis" is a legal term from Constitutional law. The Constitution of the United States holds that states may not discriminate against particular groups or individuals when there is no rational basis for doing so. Conversely, a rational basis will allow some laws to stand. States can and do discriminate against prostitutes, since it is rational to want to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The MLA wants to go on record as supporting the claim that Arizona had no rational basis "for making language ability an indicator of ... residency status." We could all agree that it would not make sense for language to be the sole indicator. But that is not what the MLA claims. They claim it cannot be an indicator at all. Contra Arizona, the MLA contends that one ought not to think a question of legal status is raised because of language and accent--even when taken together with other evidence.
Would a rational being doubt the proposition that if we wish to pressure illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin--nothing stops them from applying for citizenship--we must first find them? And while the ideal of the MLA is lovely--the law cannot even SUSPECT me just because I can't speak English and have no means of identifying myself--it remains true that we ALL get inconvenienced by the law from time to time. Arizona believes taht the rational basis test is well met when one considers the problems Arizona is trying to solve.
Is the MLA a scholarly organization or a political activist group? Nowadays the question may not even make sense to some.