Sessions: 'The Senate should be ashamed of itself'
Opponent of immigration legislation predicts its passage by next
19, 2006; Posted: 2:48 p.m. EDT (18:48 GMT)
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, predicted that the immigration bill before the Senate
would pass next week.
(AP) -- A prominent congressional opponent of sweeping immigration legislation conceded Friday the measure is likely to pass
next week, adding "The Senate should be ashamed of itself."
At the same time, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, predicted that without
significant changes, no final compromise would emerge from House-Senate negotiations this year.
Sessions indicated little chance of a filibuster, a tactic that would
require supporters to amass 60 votes to prevail.
The Alabama Republican made his remarks at the end of a week of maneuvering
on the Senate floor that left the fundamental provisions of the legislation intact. The bill calls for tougher border enforcement,
new guest worker programs and an eventual chance at citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal
immigrants already in the country.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, declined to say whether
he intends to vote for the measure, although he added, "It's certainly moving in that direction." As leader, Frist has played
a major role in making sure the legislation reached the Senate floor, although he also has voted for some of the amendments
sought by the bill's foes.
President Bush has expressed support for the general approach taken in
the legislation, but has not said whether he favors its passage.
English declared 'national language'
The White House voiced support for two provisions that cleared on Thursday.
One declared English to be the national language of the United States. The other deemed it the
"common unifying language" "What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American
citizens have a command of the English language," said White House press secretary Tony Snow. "It's as simple as that."
Ironically, Snow's remarks disputed a claim made on the Senate floor by
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the sponsor of the proposal to declare English the national language. He warned senators it was
inconsistent to support both, adding, "You can't have it both ways."
Two dozen senators joined with Bush in doing so.
Supporters agreed that both measures are largely symbolic.
"We are trying to make an assimilation statement," said Sen. Lindsey Graham,
R-South Carolina, one of two dozen senators who voted Thursday for both proposals.
Inhofe disputed charges that making English the national language was
racist or aimed at Spanish speakers. Eleven Democrats joined Republicans in voting for his measure.
The provision makes exceptions for any language assistance already guaranteed
by law, such as bilingual ballots required under the Voting Rights Act or court interpreters. It also requires immigrants
seeking citizenship to demonstrate a "sufficient understanding of the English language for usage in everyday life."
But critics argued the move would prevent limited English speakers from
getting language assistance required by an executive order signed by President Clinton. So the Senate then voted 58-39 on
saying that English is the nation's "common and unifying language."
The Homeland Security Department is in the midst of redesigning the citizenship
test and some groups have been concerned about efforts to make the test more difficult.
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, offered the alternative. The only Republican
to vote solely for Salazar's "common and unifying" language option was Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, whose home state's constitution prohibits discrimination on basis of inability
to speak, read or write English or Spanish.
Both provisions will be included in an immigration bill the Senate is
expected to pass and send to conference with the House, where differences will be resolved.
Bush pushes border enforcement
Bush, who often peppers his speeches with Spanish words and phrases, had
little to say about the Senate votes while visiting the Arizona-Mexico border. "The Senate needs to get the bill out," the
Bush toured an unfortified section of the border in the Arizona desert Thursday, where he endorsed using fences and other barriers to cut down on
illegal crossings. The Senate on Wednesday voted to put 370 miles of fences on the border.