- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

Immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens should learn English, President Bush said yesterday.

“I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English,” Mr. Bush said in response to a question about whether the anthem should be sung in Spanish.

A Spanish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” rewritten to include lines such as, “My people keep fighting. It’s time to break the chains,” was released yesterday. It has infuriated those who say the anthem should only be sung in English.

“Would the French accept people singing the ‘La Marseillaise’ in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not,” said Mark Krikorian, head of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that supports tighter immigration controls.

Mr. Krikorian said the Spanish-language “parody of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’” has not benefited those seeking looser immigration laws.

“It virtually guarantees an amnesty bill will not reach the president’s desk this year,” Mr. Krikorian said.

Called “Nuestro Himno” — “Our Anthem” — the song was released just ahead of pro-immigration protests planned around the country for Monday. With the event dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants,” activists are urging immigrants to skip work and avoid spending money as they call for legislation to provide a path to legal status for millions of people in the U.S. illegally.

“It crossed the line in terms of being an insult to Americans. This country has been united by ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in English. Anything else is a serious affront,” said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish.

The anthem debate is already ringing through the halls of Congress, which in 1931 made Francis Scott Key’s composition the nation’s song.

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, will introduce a nonbinding resolution stating that the Senate feels the national anthem should indeed be sung in English.

“We are proud of the countries we have come from, but we are prouder to be Americans,” Mr. Alexander said.

“That is why our national motto is ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ ‘one from many,’” he said. “That is why the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the oath of allegiance for new citizens and the national anthem — all important symbols of our national unity — were written in, and should be said or sung in, our common language, English.”

British music producer Adam Kidron said he wanted to honor immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. when he came up with the idea of a Spanish-language version of the national anthem, but a remix to be released in June contains several lines in English that condemn U.S. immigration laws.

“These kids have no parents, ‘cause all of these mean laws … let’s not start a war with all these hardworkers, they can’t help where they were born,” says the song, which features artists such as Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull and Puerto Rican singers Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon.

The president’s statement comes amid a national debate — and congressional fight — over immigration reform, particularly how to deal with the nation’s estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens and border security.

“These were Bush’s first comments on the issue of our common language. I think they will resonate. We’re delighted,” said Robert Toonkel, spokesman for U.S. English, a group that promotes the primacy of English.

But Jim Boulet, head of English First, said he hopes the Mr. Bush will follow up by repealing an executive order from President Clinton “that requires any agency that receives federal funding to provide services to non-English-speaking clients in their native language.”

About 18 percent of U.S. households use languages other than English at home. Of those, 28 percent, use Spanish, followed by Chinese, French and German, according to the 2000 census.

Of the nation’s Spanish speakers, 10 percent spoke no English and 28 percent spoke no English or not very well, the census found.

Mr. Toonkel noted that the U.S. citizenship law, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, stated that “to become a citizen, you have to demonstrate some proficiency in English.”

Asked if that law is being ignored, Mr. Toonkel said, “There has been a trend toward mass government bilingualism, rather than [English] language-learning and assimilation.”

Mr. Bush, who supports a temporary guest-worker program and tougher enforcement of laws against hiring illegal aliens, acknowledged that immigration has become a highly charged topic.

“One of the things that’s very important is, when we debate this issue that we not lose our national soul,” Mr. Bush said.

Senate leaders, meanwhile, edged closer to an agreement that could clear the way for passage of broad immigration legislation.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters he was dropping two demands that contributed to gridlock several weeks ago.

Supporters of the Senate legislation claim roughly 70 votes for their bill. It includes provisions to strengthen the nation’s borders, expand a guest-worker program and give many of the nation’s illegal aliens an eventual opportunity to become citizens.

Legislation passed by the Republican-controlled House last year is limited to border security and makes illegal aliens vulnerable to criminal felony charges.

Amy Fagan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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