- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006


A Senate bill that would make English the “national language” of the United States will not change current laws, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday.

Immigrants rights advocates decried the Senate’s approval of the amendments to the immigration bill last week, saying the measures could lead to a cutback in services for people who are not proficient in English.

But Mr. Gonzales, adding to his comments last week that the legislation was not necessary, said the Senate measure is purely symbolic.

“My reading of the language that was passed by the Senate is that these amendments would not have an effect on any existing rights currently provided under federal law,” said Mr. Gonzales, the nation’s top law-enforcement officer.

The English-language proposal has prompted fierce debate in recent years. Although the Senate amendments declare English as the national language, they also call English the nation’s “common and unifying language,” as opposed to being the “official” or “only” language.

Last week, the Bush administration took both sides in the dispute. White House press secretary Tony Snow signaled that President Bush would support the amendments, while Mr. Gonzales said they weren’t necessary.

Yesterday, Mr. Gonzales said the confusion was an issue of “semantics.”

“The president has never been supportive of English only or English as the official language, but certainly we support the fact that English is the national language of the United States of America.

“Of course, we’re in the legislative process now,” he said. “Ultimately we have to see what passes in the Senate.”

A Senate vote on the immigration bill — which includes provisions that pave the way for eventual legal status for millions of illegal aliens — is expected as early as this week. That sets up a potential clash with the House, which passed a bill that focuses on border security and enforcement of immigration laws.

Yesterday, Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said it won’t be a “deal breaker” if the Senate passes its current bill. But he cautioned that the Senate bill falls short in stemming illegal entry.

“The way to prevent more illegal immigrants from coming in is to secure the borders and to enforce employer sanctions,” he said.

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