WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 — Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine today made a bold move to garner attention for the immigration bill by delivering his 41 minute speech in Spanish.
While speaking Spanish on the Senate floor is not completely unheard of, it is extremely rare. The Congressional records reports that Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez spoke in Spanish on the floor in 2005, but mentions no other Spanish-language speeches.
Kaine spoke on behalf of the proceedural measure related to the immigration bill before the Senate voted on the measure. Senators overwhelmingly backed the immigration measure, 82-15, which limited debate on the motion to proceed to deciding the bill. The important procedural approval allows Senators to officially start discussion on the bill.
The freshman Senator said – in Spanish—that the immigration bill crafted by the “Gang of Eight” will improve border security, reduce the backlog of people trying to enter the US legally and strengthen the employment verification system. The measures also create a 13-year path to citizenship for those currently in the US illegally and will allow tens of thousands of workers in to the country.
He explained his reason for speaking in Spanish, saying, “The Senate has begun a historic debate on comprehensive immigration reform. We have had and will continue to have hours of debate on this issue. 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. Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate.”
He further noted, “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past, but let’s also remember that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.” He added, “Finding a perfect solution should not stand in the way of progress.”
President Barack Obama backed the vote, saying, “Congress needs to act, and that moment is now.”
“There’s no reason Congress can’t get this done by the end of the summer,” the president said. “There’s no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we’ve had in years to address this problem in a way that’s fair to middle class families, business owners and legal immigrants.”
The Senate approval was expected. While some Senators have verbalized concerns about the bill, the vast majority believe the Senate should debate the potential legislation.
Kaine, who learned Spanish as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, presaged his remarks by announcing his plans to speak in Spanish via Twitter yesterday.
Kaine ran a campaign ad in Spanish during his 2012 campaign while he was Governor of Virginia and participated in both print and TV interviews in Spanish. More than 62% of Virginia’s Latino voters backed Kaine over his Republican opponent last November, giving him a boost in the race.
Some pundits say Kaine’s speech shows the growing power of Spanish-speakers in the United States. That growing power does not appear to extend to the Senate, where only three current Senators, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Ted Cruz of Texas, identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
Kaine received unanimous approval of the other senators, as required by Senate procedure, to speak in another language on the floor.
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