Senate sends mixed signals on English issue
May. 18, 2006
WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to make English the national language of
the United States. Sort of.
Moments after the 63-34 vote, it decided to call the mother tongue a "common and
"You can't have it both ways," warned Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a fan of
"national" but not "common and unifying." Two dozen senators disagreed and voted
for both as the Senate lumbered toward an expected vote next week on a
controversial immigration bill. advertisement
The debate occurred as President Bush traveled to Yuma to dramatize his
commitment to curbing illegal immigration. At the same time, the White House
sent Congress a formal request for $1.9 billion to cover the costs of steps he
announced earlier in the week, including the deployment of up to 6,000 National
Guard troops to states along the Mexican border.
Bush generally favors the outlines of the Senate measure, a bill that calls for
great enforcement, a new guest worker program and an eventual opportunity at
citizenship for most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the
Inhofe led the attempt to declare English the national language, a campaign he
said began more than a century ago. The Oklahoma Republican quoted President
Theodore Roosevelt as having said that among other things, those living in the
United States "must also learn one language and that language is English."
"If you've got any rights now you've still got them under this amendment"
added Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Democrats disputed that, and said the proposal would curtail rights established
by an executive order President Clinton issued to extend language assistance to
individuals not proficient in English.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada went further. "I really believe
this amendment is racist. I think it's directed basically to people who speak
"It's ridiculous," Inhofe replied. "I don't think people will buy into it."
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., advanced the alternative that declared English to be
a "common and unifying language."
It passed, 58-39, leaving the outcome of the symbolic debate uncertain.
For the third straight day, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers supporting the
immigration measure demonstrated their overall command of the Senate floor.
After a stumble on Wednesday night - when the Senate voted to deny temporary
workers the ability to petition for citizenship on their own - the bill's
supporters won a reversal that said they could, as long as the federal
government certifies American workers are unavailable to fill their jobs.
The provision applies to workers with temporary visas in the country for four
years. The vote was 56-43.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the original provision was designed to protect
American workers and the replacement would "put American workers in the back
seat and foreign workers ... in the front seat."
But Sen. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said,
"I think there is a higher value in not having the immigrant subject to the
control of the employer where there may be coercion and pressure."