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With liberty and English for all

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In the highly charged debate on curbing illegal immigration, one idea generates a bright display of sparks: mandating English as the US language. It's dubbed either racist or jingoistic, but between those crackling positions there's room for reasoned discussion.

Last month, the Senate sparred over this subject, and sadly, the racist shot was fired. But is it racist to be concerned about the ascendancy of a non-English language in this melting-pot country? Nationally, that language is Spanish, but locally, it can just as easily be Ethiopian or Russian.

Common civic values, not ethnicity or race, unite America. And it takes communication of those values through a single language to hold together the diverse cultures that make the US unique and strong. Look no further than Canada and secessionist-minded French-speaking Quebec to see the splits that develop in the absence of language glue.

Neither is the preservation of English merely overly patriotic. For immigrants, English is the path to a better future – to higher-skilled jobs and meaningful citizenship.

As Congress considers legislation to preserve English as the nation's language, and as English-only bills are pending in nine states (27 states already have them), it's worth examining how endangered English is.

According to the 2000 Census, 92 percent of the US population age 5 and older has no difficulty speaking English. And a recent Zogby poll shows that a vast majority (84 percent), supports English as the national language, including 71 percent of Hispanics. English is the most studied second language in the world, preferred in many venues.

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