Official Language Battle Affecting Drivers

Saturday, April 5th 2008, 9:43 pm
By: News On 6

A Bartlesville couple says they're being unfairly portrayed by those fighting to make English the state's official language.  It started when reports surfaced they wanted a driver's license test to be in their native language of Farsi.  News On 6 reporter Dan Bewley sat down with a family member who wants to straighten out the story.

"They are legal residents; they are not illegal aliens trying to get a license. People need to understand that, that's why I came here to speak about this," said Payam Sharifi.

Sharifi's cousins came to the U.S. from Iran in 2006 after winning a Visa from the U.S. Government. The middle age couple is taking classes to learn English as a second language.

"It is a little difficult for them and they are still learning," said Sharifi.

Their command of English, he says, is not at the level the driver's license test is written. So Sharifi asked the state Department of Public Safety to allow the test to be in pictures or to use an interpreter and insists he never asked for it to be strictly in Farsi.

"They could have done anything, but they decided to do nothing," said Sharifi.

The couple's case has gotten the attention of state lawmakers where Representative Randy Terrill wants to make English the state's official language.

"The reason why we need this is to prevent the state of Oklahoma from being compelled to deliver taxpayer funded services in anything other than our official language which would be English," said Rep. Randy Terrill, (R) Moore.

Representative Terrill has even mentioned the Sharifi's plight as an example of potentially wasted taxpayer money. Sharifi says the representative is overlooking a federal mandate.          

"It would have helped Representative Terrill and all the other representatives if they actually read the executive order," said Sharifi.

Executive order 13166 was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. It says agencies that receive federal money have a responsibility to make sure everyone has access and specifically says places where English is the official language is still subject to Federal non-discrimination requirements. Sharifi says that means Terrill's quest is unlawful.

"That means that this law they are trying to pass would be nothing but symbolic," said Sharifi.

The couple eventually established an official residence in Kansas and took the driver's license test there using pictures and symbols.  Then they moved back to Bartlesville and had the licenses switched to Oklahoma.

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