President Bush yesterday recognized the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo a day early with a call for immigrants to learn English, even as his spokesman denied that the president sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish during the 2000 campaign, saying his Spanish wasn’t good enough.
“Those who come here to start new lives in our country have a responsibility to understand what America is about and the responsibility to learn the English language so they can better understand our national character and participate fully in American life,” the president said in a ceremony at the White House East Room.
He again called for a “comprehensive” immigration bill, saying border security won’t work without a path for future workers to come.
“All elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all,” he said.
As president, Mr. Bush has celebrated Cinco de Mayo, which recognizes an 1862 battle when outnumbered Mexicans defeated a French-led army, every year — usually with a written proclamation or a short speech at the White House honoring Mexican-Americans, particularly those in his administration.
But yesterday’s event was the first time that he has used the celebration to go into detail on a pressing political issue and reflects the stakes in the immigration debate.
The Senate appears likely to follow his call for a broader bill, but the House last year passed an enforcement-only bill, with leaders saying they first needed to prove to voters that the borders can be enforced. Polls seem to back the House approach, showing voters favor an enforcement-first strategy over a comprehensive strategy.
Although Mr. Bush called for border security and a temporary worker program, he did not talk about interior enforcement against employers who hire illegal aliens or address what to do with the current estimated 12 million illegal aliens, 56 percent of whom are Mexican, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The celebration also highlighted recent questions about how well new immigrants are assimilating and comes a week after Hispanic artists from around the world released a new Spanish-language version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The song “Nuestro Himno,” which means “Our Anthem,” is not a faithful and literal Spanish translation of the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but is a hip-hop-style remix with new raps and chants.
Mr. Bush last Friday said the U.S. national anthem should be sung in English.
But since then, Mr. Bush’s wife, Laura, told CNN that she didn’t see a problem with a Spanish version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and reports have surfaced that Mr. Bush sang the anthem in Spanish during the 2000 campaign.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” has been translated into many languages, including Spanish, often with some level of government approval.
Yesterday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan tried to shoot down those reports.
“I’m saying that not only was that suggestion absurd, but that he couldn’t possibly sing the national anthem in Spanish. He’s not that good with his Spanish,” Mr. McClellan said.