- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

President Bush yesterday called for immigrants to embrace “our common culture” as they assimilate as part of the path to citizenship he wants to give to longtime illegal aliens.

“Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for our flag and the ability to speak and write in English,” Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address.

As he presses for Congress to send him a broad immigration bill, the president is trying to mute some objections by highlighting immigrants’ need to assimilate, and nowhere is that more clear than in his call for them to learn English.

Last week the administration backed two largely symbolic amendments in the Senate debate — both of which passed — that encourage learning English. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow described the amendments as having set “English as the national language.”

Mr. Bush also repeated his call for a right to citizenship for illegal aliens with “roots” in the United States, and said that would not be amnesty because “approval won’t be granted automatically.”

The president delivered an Oval Office address on immigration on Monday, calling for National Guard troops to assist at the border until 6,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents can be hired, and also pressing for the path to citizenship.

But Democrats said Mr. Bush failed to show leadership in Monday’s address because he did not attack members of his own party who voted for the House’s enforcement-only bill in December.

“The president needed to stand up to congressional extremists. He did not,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat and a third generation Japanese-American, in the Democrats’ radio response.

Mr. Honda blamed House Republicans for the “divisive anti-immigrant bill,” but 36 Democrats also voted for the bill, and 191 Democrats voted to preserve the provision that makes illegal aliens felons.

Democrats are eager to fan the flames of disagreement between House Republicans and the president on this issue. And in a curious twist, it is Democrats who are now calling on Mr. Bush to issue a veto threat against members of his own party.

“Now that’s he’s finally and clearly laid down his own minimum expectations for comprehensive immigration reform, Bush must finally and clearly inform Congress and the nation that he is willing to veto any legislation that falls short of those expectations,” the Democratic Leadership Council said last week.

The English issue could pop up again.

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called the amendment sponsored by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, “racist.”

And many of the groups pushing hardest for a right to citizenship for illegal aliens are adamantly opposed to what they called an “English-only” amendment.

“The Inhofe amendment jeopardizes the broad support this legislation has earned, especially in the Latino community,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights group. “We call on the Senate to reconsider this ill-advised proposal and keep the immigration debate focused on responsible, effective immigration reform rather than on ill-advised policies that harm Americans.”

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