Leahy warns of potential pitfalls in Immigration Reform bill

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(HOST) Debate resumes this week in the U.S. Senate over the Immigration Reform bill. One of the most controversial provisions of the bill which has already passed would make English the “Official Language of the United States.
Senator Patrick Leahy believes while the measure’s goals are laudable, there are still potential pitfalls.

Our congressional correspondent, Max Cacas, has more from the floor of the Senate:

(Lamar Alexander) “We value every language. We value every ancestor. We value every background that is here. It is what makes our country so special. I for one hope that our children grow up speaking more than one language. But we need to be able to speak with one another.”

(Cacas) Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander a Republican makes the impassioned case for an “English as Official Language” amendment which consumed nearly a day of debate over the Immigration Reform bill. He refutes claims that the amendment is divisive, and that such a designation can only help to strengthen America’s diversity by emphasizing the nation’s unity behind a common language. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy says on that note, he finds common ground with his colleague:

(Leahy) “It is a unifying factor in a country of nearly 300 million people the size of ours. And the bill that we’re debating calls for immigrants to learn English as one of the several steps they take, must take before they earn citizenship.”

(Cacas) But the Vermont Democrat says he has concerns about what opponents consider the possible unintended consequences of designating English as the Official language. He worries about the possibility of someday using the designation as the basis of knocking down rules mandating that official information be offered in languages other than English:

(Leahy) “We’ve recently seen demonstrated the extensive and effective reach of Spanish language radio. Suppose you had a crisis, a hurricane, a flood, a disaster in an area with many for whom Spanish is their first language? Wouldn’t you want to be able to use the Spanish radio system to get out pronouncements from our government where people could seek out help, aid or even to possibly quell panic?”

(Cacas) And Leahy pointed to the marble-edged backdrop of the Senate Chamber podium, where a now-popular slogan for the American government– inscribed in a foreign tongue – sits above the seat of the Senate President.

(Leahy) “It’s not in English. It’s in Latin. E Pluribus Unum. Every school child’s taught that expression – Out of many, one. What it means to our shared value. Latin expressions are on our official currency, on the reverse of the great seal of the United States. “Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum” are part of official symbols of the United States. But our incorporations of languages other than English doesn’t stop there. Take a look at the flag of Connecticut with the phrase, “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” the flag for Idaho that includes the phrase “Esto Perpetua,” the Kansas flag the phrase “Ad Astra Per Aspera.”

(Cacas) All of which, says Leahy, could be wiped away if the “official language” designation is carried to an illogical extreme. The two competing “official language” amendments to the Immigration bill were approved by the Senate. Their futures, however, remain uncertain, as the Senate bill nears final approval, perhaps before the Memorial Day recess. And the entire Immigration Reform bill faces an equally uncertain future because of deep differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Max Cacas on Capitol Hill.

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