In what should go down as one of the most bizarre days in recent U.S. Senate history, Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, a Cuban-American, introduced Tuesday an amendment to the immigration reform bill requiring English proficiency of all citizenship candidates.
And Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, delivered on the Senate floor a speech — entirely in Spanish — in passionate support of the bill that would benefit some 11 million undocumented people from a multitude of nationalities.
“I think it is appropriate that I spend a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565,” Kaine said. “Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate … This bill will first and foremost create a path to earned citizenship, not amnesty. Undocumented individuals will have to meet several stringent requirements such as, paying fees and fines, passing national security and criminal background checks, paying their taxes and learning English.”
I don’t know if this should be one of those Washingtonian days filed under “still the greatest nation” folder or the “somebody save us from the politics” folder — or both.
Probably both, as both senators were catering to extreme partisan views on the immigration debate — pulling all the stops to get this bill a full hearing on the Senate floor, which I can appreciate as a tactic but loathe as a citizen.
This is the type of demagoguery that has polarized and paralyzed this country.
English is the language of this land. That goes without saying.
But just like the Jim Crow laws in the South were passed to keep blacks from voting, Rubio’s language requirement is meant to keep a certain kind of immigrant from becoming a citizen — the poorer and less likely to be able to gain full command of the language to pass a test, people who Republicans think are more likely to vote Democrat.
That the son of modest Cuban immigrants who didn’t speak English when they came to this country is proposing the requirement is, at best, ugly. That he lives and has represented during his political career Greater Miami, a multilingual metropolis hailed as the gateway of the Americas because it’s good business, is well … political animal behavior.
And Kaine and his whiplash Spanish?
The former Virginia governor took a year off after he entered Harvard Law School and lived in Honduras, where he honed his Spanish while running a vocational school for teenage boys as a Catholic missionary.
It’s not a coincidence that he is a reasonable voice in the immigration debate. Kaine understands at a deeper level what brings an immigrant to the United States — and knows that keeping people underground is bad for the nation.
His speech in Spanish wasn’t necessary, and may even fan the fears of haters who boisterously oppose reform predicting a Spanish takeover, but gracias for the gesture, senator.
I’ll take it as atonement for Rubio’s loathsome language amendment.