Amendment to migrant-reform bill makes English 'national language'
Republic Washington Bureau
May. 19, 2006

Mike Madden

WASHINGTON - English would be recognized as "the national language of the United States" under an amendment the Senate attached to an immigration-reform bill Thursday.

It was mostly a symbolic move that highlighted the cultural tensions of the debate.

The amendment wouldn't affect existing laws, court decisions or executive orders that require the government to provide services in other languages, nor would it affect laws in 27 states making English the official language.
But the amendment, sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and an alternative by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., that declared English to be a "common and unifying" language, sparked heated debate. Salazar's proposal also passed.

Most Republicans, including John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, voted for the Inhofe amendment. Kyl was a co-sponsor. Most Democrats voted for Salazar's proposal. McCain and some other key GOP supporters of the immigration-reform bill voted for both.

Throughout the debate, supporters and opponents of reform have stressed their desire to encourage immigrants to assimilate and learn English.
Protesters who waved Mexican flags at rallies for reform earlier this spring angered many lawmakers. President Bush weighed in last month to say the national anthem should be sung in English, after Latino pop stars recorded a version in Spanish.

"It is the common language of a number of countries, but English is a part of our blood, it is part of our spirit, it's part of who we are," said Sen.
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also a co-sponsor of Inhofe's measure.

Advocates for Latinos called the Inhofe amendment insulting.

"It's more of a mean-spirited signal to the Hispanic community, in particular, that their culture is not accepted in the United States," said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "If it's just, 'Our language is English,' and that's it, and there's no practical effect at all, then why do it, other than just to kind of thumb your nose at Latinos and other communities that have different languages?"

The Senate also blocked, 58-35, an amendment Thursday co-sponsored by Kyl and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that reform supporters said would have effectively killed the immigration-reform bill. The proposal would have made future temporary workers ineligible to get permanent legal status.