The White House took both sides in a dispute over English being the national
language of the United States Friday as a broad immigration bill moved
toward a final Senate vote next week with one conservative predicting it will
never become law.
President Bush makes a point during a speech Friday, May, 19, 2006, at
Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Ky. [AP
US President Bush's support for the dueling sides doesn't stray from his
long-held view on learning English, said White House press secretary Tony Snow.
"What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that
people who become American citizens have a command of the English language,"
Snow said. "It's as simple as that."
The US Senate on Thursday approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. James
Inhofe, R-Okla., that would declare English the national language. But it also
approved an alternative proposal sponsored by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo.,
designating English the nation's "common and unifying language." Before the vote
on the alternative, Inhofe warned his colleagues, "You can't have it both ways."
The White House seemed to. "We have supported both of these," Snow said of
the two amendments.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, speaking Friday in Houston, added to the
"The president has never supported making English the national language,"
Gonzales said, adding, "I don't see the need to have legislation or a law that
says English is going to be the national language."
As governor of Texas and a presidential candidate in 2000, Bush supported
bilingual education programs. He sprinkles Spanish into his presidential
speeches and has released political commercials in Spanish. But he also has said
the national anthem should be sung in English.
The president plans to address immigration reform in his weekly radio address
Saturday. He has generally favored a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
and a guest worker program that would bring more foreigners to the US to fill
jobs. Both are central elements of the bill before the Senate.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., an ardent opponent of the bill conceded Friday it
is likely to pass next week. "The Senate should be ashamed of itself," he said.
But he also predicted to reporters that it won't become law unless House and
Senate negotiators rewrite it.
The adoption of Inhofe's amendment drew a heated protest Friday from Latinos.
John Trasvina, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal
Defense and Educational Fund, said the amendment could be misinterpreted and
lead to a cutback in services for those not proficient in English.
"Latinos don't need a law passed to say we ought to learn English. There are
long waiting lists for adult English classes," Trasvina said. "It's false
patriotism to pass an amendment to say you ought to learn English and not
fulfill your responsibility of providing the opportunities."
New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, the only Republican to reject the Inhofe
proposal, said the country should "move beyond the notion that English, and
English only, will ensure the future of the United States."