“The court specially informs the mother that if she does not make the effort to learn English, she is running the risk of losing any connection — legally, morally and physically — with her daughter forever,” reads a court order from the hearing, according to Jerry Gonzalez, the Nashville attorney who represents the woman.
Tatum’s orders have become the subject of debate in this Tennessee community, which has seen an influx of non-English speakers over the last decade. Civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have charged that his orders are discriminatory and unconstitutional. But many of Tatum’s neighbors cheered the principle behind his act, saying new immigrants should be encouraged to assimilate more fully into American life.
Encouraging people to learn English is one thing, threatening to take their children away is another. Learning a second language is hard — even for wealthy people with college educations, not to mention struggling immigrants without such luxuries.
Gonzalez said the judge was setting the mother up for failure.
“She probably doesn’t have a sixth-grade education. I daresay the judge himself, an educated man, could not learn to speak Spanish to a fourth-grade level in six months,” Gonzalez said. “He gave her an impossible task.”