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Gonzales: English Language bill purely symbolic
Boston Globe/AP
Hope Yen
May 21, 2006

WASHINGTON --Despite the brouhaha the Senate has caused with its immigration bill, making English the "national language" of the United States will not change current laws, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday.

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

But 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 Gonzales, the nation's top law enforcement officer.

The English-language proposal has prompted fierce debate in recent years. While 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 Gonzales said they weren't necessary.

On Sunday, 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 added. "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 immigrants -- is expected as early as this week. That sets up a potential clash with House members, who passed a bill that focuses on border security and enforcement of immigration laws.

On Sunday, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., 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 immigration.

"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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