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Business Leaders Need Immigrant Labor, Want Driving Exams in Spanish

Remember, conservative xenophobes: the South Dakotans calling for making it easier for immigrants to make themselves at home in our fair state aren’t radical Marxist social justice warriors cahootsifying with the radical Shariists to destroy your America. They are, as the Higgins memo suggested, your local business leaders who can’t find enough Angloparlantes to drive their trucks:

Construction industry leaders in the Sioux Falls area want to change the state’s driving laws to make it easier for Spanish speakers to get behind the wheel. Language restrictions have created a drag on the workforce in a fast-growing industry that also drives the growth of the state’s largest city.

Most states offer driving tests in different languages. South Dakota does not.

State law requires all government documents to be published in English, and officials extend the rule to both the written and skills sections of the driving exam [Patrick Anderson, “English Only? S.D. License Law a Hurdle for Sioux Falls Construction Industry,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.08.29].

The Legislature passed and Governor Bill Janklow signed a law (SDCL 1-27-20) in 1995 declaring English the “common” state language and designating that common language as “the language of any official public document or record and any official public meeting.” The “the” in that clause means that when aspiring drivers sit for the test to get their license, the official test that the state plunks in front of them must be written only in English.

Roadbuilder BX Civil and Construction of Dell Rapids tells Anderson that about 60 of its 100 workers are Hispanic. The construction execs talking about easing the language restrictions on driver’s license tests seem to be focusing on allowing Spanish versions of those tests. But if there is a civil rights issue with offering our driving tests in only one language, there’s a civil rights issue with offering those tests in only two languages. Employers can’t up and say they only want more Hispanic workers; whatever legal changes they propose need to offer equal opportunity to all workers, regardless of national origin or native tongue.

Business gets what business wants in South Dakota So fine, add to the current list of exceptions to South Dakota’s English-only rule. But be ready to publish más de uno alternative driving exam.


  1. Mr. Lansing 2017-09-03 11:58

    Keep up, South Dakota. Why continually be on the wrong side of history? Why exclude non-Angloparlantes from anything official? It reeks of racism.
    Furthermore: Immigrants in the USA illegally cannot produce the necessary documents (like a social security card) to obtain a driver’s license under state laws. Beginning in 1993 with Washington state, 12 states and DC have changed their laws to allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses.

  2. mike from iowa 2017-09-03 12:22

    English only? How about corruption free only government? Someday minorities will be in charge and everyone will be required to speak minority.

  3. buckobear 2017-09-03 17:10

    Seems like exception #3 “To the conduct of international commerce, tourism, and sporting events”; and #5 “When the public safety, health, or emergency services require the use of other languages” could be loosely interpreted and “bent” to fit, eh?
    Hell, even #2 ” To instruction designed to aid students with limited English proficiency in a timely transition and integration into the general education system” so they could drive to ESL classes or school.

  4. Roger Elgersma 2017-09-03 18:15

    is this from the same party that wants a wall?

  5. Anne Beal 2017-09-04 06:06

    a more pertinent issue is why are workers in such short supply? Driving trucks pays decently, more than the $15 minimum wage so many people are demanding. If somebody wants to make $15/hour why doesnt he learn to drive a truck?
    I have been hearing employers everywhere Saying “nobody wants to work anymore.”
    I see “help wanted” signs in businesses everywhere. There’s lots of jobs out there and not enough people willing to do them. Just how many people are living in their parents’ basements playing video games?
    I was opposed to the military draft when it was still in effect, because I assumed that if young men were not forced into the military they would certainly get off their couches and do something productive with their time. Maybe that was a fallacy?

  6. John 2017-09-04 08:12

    This is another, ‘no brainer’. Hoover’s South Dakota history reminds us that merchants in Sioux Falls and other towns hired sales women who spoke Norwegian, posted ads, and signs in Norwegian — to help their customers. The state used to have up to 18 newspapers published in languages other than English — again to foster assimilation, not to fight it.

  7. mike from iowa 2017-09-04 08:16

    Truck driving is a dangerous vocation and it is hard on the driver’s anatomy. It also requires, in many instances, breaking hour limits on wheel time in order to make deliveries. It also encourages drug use to stay awake at the wheel. Many instances require days or longer away from home and family.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-04 08:45

    Buckobear, thanks for reviewing those existing exceptions in SDCL 1-27-22! I wondered about shoehorning the driver’s license exam into those existing exceptions. I’d throw out #3 on international commerce, which appears to envision foreign trade trips (you know, like EB-5 recruitment flyers in Chinese), not driving to work in Dell Rapids to build a road. #2 requires a stretch: the driver’s test is evaluation, not “instruction,” and it’s not designed to directly assist ESL students with their ESL classes. #5, too, would require the loose interpretation you mention: we’d have to conclude that the lack of alt-language driver’s exams are leading to a spate of unlicensed drivers creating a public safety hazard on our roads.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-04 08:52

    Anne—”a more pertinent issue”—is that code for, “Let’s change the subject”?

    An actual pertinent question would be, how long does it take a non-English speaker to learn enough English to read, comprehend, and pass South Dakota’s English-language driver’s license exam? If we can determine that language-learning burden, we can then ask if we can afford to exclude ESL immigrants from these good-paying driving jobs for that long.

    A subsequent pertinent question is, if providing alt-language driver’s exams would allow new arrivals to SD to enter more jobs more quickly, would their increased earning/spending power translate into increased sales tax revenues that would offset the cost of translation and printing? Or would alt-language licensees not yet fluent in English miss all sorts of English-language road signs and instructions and cause more problems on the road?

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-04 08:54

    John makes an interesting assimilation point: by making alt-language services available early, we hasten the integration of Norwegians, Mexicans, and others into the South Dakota economy and culture. By delaying integration, we extend the period of isolation, which may give ethnic ghettoes more time to harden, leaving us with a more divided, less functional state long-term.

  11. John 2017-09-05 21:51

    Corey, thank you, I wish I were as articulate as you. Allow me to expound. I had the blessed opportunity to live in Europe for over a cumulative 10 years spanning 2 decades. Traffic laws differed in the nations — yet licensed vehicles and drivers from first and second world nations were largely able to safety operate small and very large commercial vehicles in other nations (Europeans did the pup-trailer thing decades prior to the Americans). Drivers had opportunities to test in different languages, learn signs in different languages, etc. This continued later when licensed vehicles and drivers appeared from the former eastern block. It wasn’t perfect; yet afforded, fostered the greatest integration and assimilation of the world’s largest market economy of over 750 million souls – the EU.

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