US Senate Votes to Make English the `National Language' of U.S.

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri May 19 12:51:00 UTC 2006


Senate Votes to Make English the `National Language' of U.S.

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- The Senate voted to make English the ``national
language'' of the U.S. as part of legislation overhauling immigration
policy. The measure, approved by a vote of 63-34, directs the government
to ``preserve and enhance'' the role of English, without altering current
laws that require some government documents and services be provided in
other languages. ``I don't see how you can unify the United States of
America unless we have a national language,'' Tennessee Republican Lamar
Alexander said.  ``English is part of our national identity. It's part of
our spirit. It's part of our blood. It's part of who we are.''

The amendment was added to legislation senators are considering that would
strengthen border security, create a new guest-worker program and allow an
estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status.
Opponents of the language provision said it would cause employees of the
federal government to avoid using languages other than English even in
warning signs or emergency communications for fear of breaking the law.
The amendment would create ``an obstacle for those who are trying to
achieve public safety and public health,'' said Illinois Democrat Richard
Durbin. ``Why do we need to do this?''

Consideration of the English-language amendment was held up for a day as
lawmakers negotiated its wording. The final version, sponsored by
Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, calls for making English the
``national'' language, which was a change from an earlier draft that
termed it the ``official'' language. Alternative Proposal Democrat Ken
Salazar of Colorado offered a competing amendment that would make English
the ``common and unifying language of America.'' He said Inhofe's proposal
would ``create division within the country'' by addressing ``a problem
that does not exist.''

The Inhofe amendment states that there is no right to receive government
documents or services in other languages, and the government can't be sued
for not providing foreign language services, ``unless otherwise authorized
or provided by law.'' The amendment also sets requirements that immigrants
seeking U.S.  citizenship know the English language and U.S. history.
President George W. Bush, in a Monday prime-time address to the nation on
immigration, said undocumented immigrants seeking legal status should be
required to learn English and that the common language is the key to
opportunity in the U.S. ``English allows newcomers to go from picking
crops to opening a grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices,''
Bush said.

Additional Amendments

While considering amendments to the legislation during the past four days,
lawmakers also have approved limiting the size of the guest-worker program
to 200,000 visas per year and endorsed building 350 miles of fencing along
the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate has rejected amendments that would have
eliminated the guest-worker program and removed the path to legal status
for those in the U.S. illegally. The Senate today rejected, by a vote of
50-49, a proposal to prevent undocumented workers from receiving Social
Security benefits for any contributions they made to the retirement system
before they acquire legal status. Opponents said it would take benefits
away from people who regularly paid taxes into the system. ``If these
immigrants earned it they should receive it like everyone else,''
Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy said.

Earlier Votes

The Senate also voted 56-43 to overturn the results of the last vote
yesterday, when lawmakers approved by 50-48 an amendment that would
require undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status through their
employers. Supporters of today's amendment said undocumented immigrants
should be allowed to ``self-petition'' for legal status so they couldn't
be possibly kept in limbo by unscrupulous employers. ``The issue of not
having the immigrant subject to the control of the employer is an
important one to see to that the immigrant is treated fairly,'' Republican
Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said. The Senate yesterday approved a
provision to delay until June 1, 2009, a requirement that U.S. citizens
have a passport or similar document when traveling to Mexico or Canada.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, has said the
Senate will complete work on the immigration legislation by the end of the
month. Legislation passed by the Senate will have to be reconciled with a
House measure passed last year that backs 700 miles of fencing and doesn't
address a work program or legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Congress last passed such broad immigration legislation in 1986 when it
approved a program that granted legal status to as many as 3 million
undocumented immigrants and criminalized the hiring of those in the U.S.

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