WASHINGTON – In a warm-up for next week's immigration debate, impatient U.S. senators flirted with the fringes of the issue with separate bills to crack down on border tunnel builders and insist that the national anthem be sung in English.
A compromise that would protect most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants from being deported faltered in the Senate in April.
Senators, however, were unwilling to wait to express their disdain for a recently released version of the national anthem in Spanish or to delay legislation for imprisoning smugglers convicted of digging tunnels under the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Senate approved a resolution late Monday evening stating that the U.S. national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, the oath recited by immigrants when they are sworn in as citizens and other songs or statements symbolizing national unity should be spoken or sung in English.
"At the opening of the Senate each day, or at a football game, or at a Boy or Girl Scout meeting, we are free to sing or say our national symbols in any language we please, but we ought to sing and say them in our common language, English," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.
A similar resolution has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Ryun, a Kansas Republican.
A Spanish version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" debuted last month, prompting an outcry around the country. President George W. Bush said people who want to be U.S. citizens ought to learn English and learn to sing the national anthem in English.
It was later revealed the State Department's own Web site has four versions of the national anthem in Spanish as well as translations of the Constitution and other national symbols.
"We cannot win the hearts and minds of people of other nations and promote American ideals if we close the door on people expressing their support for our country and the freedoms on which it was founded," Akaka said.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, introduced a bill for cracking down on border tunnel builders and financiers "just to get it done" in case broader immigration legislation never makes it to Bush's desk.
Their measure would impose prison sentences of up to 20 years for anyone who builds a tunnel or pays to have one built and up to 10 years for anyone who allows one to be built on their land or disregards the building of a cross-border tunnel.