Arizona candidate with 'survival English' fights to get on ballot
Alejandrina Cabrera, a city council candidate in Arizona, is appealing a lower-court decision that barred her from seeking office because a judge determined that her English was too poor, one of her lawyers said Saturday.
Cabrera's lawyers filed a notice to appeal late Friday, and will likely file an appellate brief Monday, Ryan Hengl, one of her attorneys, told The Times.
Cabrera hopes to run for City Council in San Luis, a small town of about 25,000 residents about 20 miles southwest of Yuma.
Her case, believed to be the first of its kind in Arizona, has sparked much debate over how English-proficient a candidate for public office must be, particularly in border towns where much of the population primarily speaks Spanish.
In San Luis, the population is almost 99% Latino and is predominantly of Mexican heritage, according to U.S. Census data.
"Alejandrina definitely reflects the town," Hengl said.
The challenge to Cabrera's candidacy was filed in December by San Luis Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla, who has said himself that his English is far from perfect.
Some have speculated that the lawsuit was politically motivated because Cabrera has filed two recall petitions against Escamilla in the past, Hengl said.
Last week, Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson, relied, in part, on an evaluation by an Australian linguist from Brigham Young University to make his decision. William Eggington, hired by the city of San Luis, conducted interviews and other assessments with Cabrera to evaluate her English. In Egginton's opinion submitted to the court, he said the candidate had "basic survival English," but not enough conduct city business.
Her lawyers, who say they work with their client in English, disagree.
Most states, including Arizona, require that public officials speak, read and write in English, but state law does is not specific, Hengl said.
"It doesn't specify levels of English," Hengl said.
He added: "It's not up to the court to determine English levels. It's up to voters. If voters don't think she is qualified, they won't vote for her."
A date for oral arguments has not been set, but Hengl said her legal team is hoping to schedule a hearing soon -- before the Feb. 2 deadline for the printing of San Luis' ballots.
-- Ricardo Lopez