Olson's deeper explanation--that the law's intent was to save the state money by blocking an effort to get official state reference guides printed in Lakota as well as English--has some questionable overtones, but regardless of the objective, the unintended consequence now poses a problem. This is a law that needs to be refined, if not altogether repealed. I have some background in this. My family came up through the immigration ranks (I was born in a refugee camp in Rome, Italy) of the post-WW II era. Nearly seventy years later I'm actually pretty glad that in our day we refugees seeking a new life here in the U.S. were by custom and circumstance totally immersed in English. By any standard we Tsitrians have done pretty well for ourselves and our communities, an outcome that I believe was energized and accelerated by our quick adoption of English as the language of our household. I wish that were the case for every immigrant in this country--but it isn't.
And the fact that it isn't has come home to roost right here in South Dakota, where we have to grapple with the fact that English immersion for immigrants will probably never be a fact of our state's economic and cultural life again. Nostalgia for our historic character as a "melting pot" doesn't get the job of building our economy done, as a lot of South Dakota enterprises are finding out. In Sioux Falls, the head of the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors tells the Argus Leader that immigrant labor is "hugely important" to the construction trade, a fact that anybody in the Black Hills who's had a roof installed in recent years knows first hand. I've put up three roofs, two commercial and one residential, in the past four years and I'm pretty sure that each crew was close to 100% Spanish-speaking, with only the lead installer capable of communicating in a halting version of English on each job.
I doubt that roofing and other contractors here would have much luck putting adequate work crews together without Spanish-only speakers making up a good share of the workforce. The much-discussed labor shortage brought up frequently in state government circles is one that is only magnified by making it difficult for non-English speakers to gain some sort of residential and professional toehold in South Dakota. By at least making driver's licenses accessible to them in their native tongues, as the Sioux Falls business community is promoting, our state will probably be doing itself some good on the economic development front.