- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

OMAHA, Neb. — President Bush yesterday announced the creation of a task force to expand English, civics and history lessons as he pushes his plan for longtime illegal aliens to gain a path to citizenship.

He said the government must take an active role in assimilation, a move he called critical both for the nation and for those who have entered its borders.

The administration and key Democrats and Republicans in Congress say that requiring illegal aliens to learn English is an important step to make the case to voters that a pathway to citizenship is not amnesty. They also note that aliens seeking citizenship would have to pay back taxes and a small fine.

“You got to repay a debt to society and learn the skills necessary to assimilate into our society,” Mr. Bush said. “Show us you’ve been working hard.”

The president used the White House celebration of the Mexican Cinco de Mayo holiday last month to urge Spanish speakers to make the effort to learn English.

Mr. Bush speaks some Spanish and occasionally peppers speeches and conversations with words and phrases from the language. Speaking to a group of adults taking civics lessons yesterday at the Catholic Charities-operated Juan Diego Center, he lapsed into Spanish.

Asked whether Mr. Bush planned to drop Spanish from his stump speeches, a White House spokeswoman said she does not expect that to happen.

Mr. Bush visited with others receiving help from the center as they sought to build small businesses. One man told the president that the center helped him with loans and permits, and Mr. Bush explained the importance of English to their success.

“It’s hard to run your own business unless you can speak English,” said Mr. Bush, acknowledging the difficulty in learning a new language.

A 2004 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 57 percent of Hispanics felt they had to learn English to be part of American society, while 41 percent said they did not think it was necessary.

Speaking later yesterday at a community college in Omaha, Mr. Bush acknowledged that a proposed pathway to citizenship is “the ultimate stumbling block” to congressional approval this year of an immigration reform bill.

The Senate, mostly on the strength of Democratic votes, passed a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, but many lawmakers opposed to the measure call it amnesty. House Republicans, joined by three dozen Democrats, passed an immigration reform bill last year that addressed only border enforcement.

Mr. Bush reiterated that returning the nation’s estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens to their home countries is “impractical, it’s not going to work, and it’s not necessary.”

After returning to Washington, he signed an executive order creating the English, civics and history task force.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will lead the task force, which will work to consolidate and expand existing federal efforts and look for the best practices among nongovernmental organizations.

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