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Group Challenges U.S. English

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U.S. English, the group that four years ago launched the movement to make English the nation's official language, now claims nearly 300,000 members and a budget of $6 million to $7 million a year. But its leadership is being challenged by a group that entered the lucrative fund-raising market just a year ago.

English First, a project of the Committee to Protect the Family, has sent out more than 5 million pieces of direct mail since then, resulting in the recruitment of 200,000 members at $20 each, according to the group's president, Larry Pratt.

Congressional lobbying reports show that the committee has raised $2.5 million and spent $2.3 million, almost all on mailing costs. Mr. Pratt said English First represents at least 90 percent of the committee's activity.

Despite the "moral obligation'' to learn English, its letter to prospective members warns, "tragically, many immigrants these days refuse to [do so].''

"They never become productive members of American society,'' it states, and many are "living off welfare and costing working Americans millions of tax dollars every year.''

U.S. English did not welcome the emergence of a competitor--"a gas station on the other corner,'' as Steve Workings, who coordinates state activity for the older group, puts it. He complained that Mr. Pratt had refused to meet with him on several occasions.

"They have an impressive direct-mail campaign, but that's about all,'' Mr. Workings maintained. "It's just an opportunity to make a buck.'' He also questioned the English First membership claims.

Mr. Pratt said he did not understand why U.S. English would resent the growth of his group, because "that will make it all the sooner that we have an [English-language] amendment.''

"There's plenty of work to do getting the amendment through,'' he said, "rather than quarreling with allies.''

"U.S. English is difficult to work with,'' Mr. Pratt added. "They were out there before us, and we still have some bases to touch. But we've made a lot of contacts in state capitols.''

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