Equity & Diversity

U.S. Senator Delivers Remarks in Spanish on Immigration Bill

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 11, 2013 1 min read

Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who favors the bipartisan immigration reform bill, gave a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate earlier today entirely in Spanish.

In voicing his support for the comprehensive immigration reform bill crafted by a bipartisan group of senators, Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, probably made history by being the first senator in recent times to deliver an entire speech in a language other than English on the Senate floor, according to The Washington Post.

Kaine worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras during the 1980s and clearly puts a high value on keeping up his language skills and communicating with his Spanish-speaking constituents. Much of his Senate website is translated into Spanish. He told the Post he wrote the speech with assistance from two Spanish-speaking staff members.

Kaine’s speech followed the introduction of a new amendment to the immigration bill—from Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and Cuban immigrant who is part of the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators who authored the measure—that would require undocumented immigrants to learn English before they could earn permanent residency status. The current version of the bill would require immigrants to either demonstrate English proficiency or be enrolled in a language course. The Rubio amendment would eliminate signing up for a language class as a sufficient condition for the language requirement of seeking a green card.

As debate got underway in the full Senate for what is expected to be a weeks-long affair, President Obama held a White House event to push the Senate to approve the bill. He singled out two DREAMers—the young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children—who appeared with him at the event as reasons for Congress to act.

As proposed, the Senate bill would create a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Immigrants who are DREAMers would have a speedier path to citizenship—roughly five years—if they can meet the various conditions spelled out in the bill such as having already graduated from high school, earned a GED, completed two years of college, or spent four years in the military.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.