How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

History on Senate floor: first speech in Spanish

As the U.S. Senate voted to start its debate on immigration reform, Democrat Tim Kaine delivered a speech entirely in Spanish.

There was a first in the U.S. Senate Tuesday: an entire floor speech delivered in Spanish.

As Senators began debating immigration, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said it was appropriate to explain the bill in a language spoken by nearly 40 million Americans, a language spoken in the U.S. since the 1500s.

In Spanish, Kaine said: "In order for the U.S. to be the most talented country in the world, we must fix the current flaws in our immigration system."

Kaine learned Spanish when he left Harvard Law School in the early 1980s to work with Jesuit missionaries running a school in Honduras. Kaine says he's "definitely a gringo" and tasked a pair of bilingual staffers to work with him on the speech. 

Nearly a decade ago, Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida gave some floor remarks in Spanish, and sign-language interpreters are sometimes called in to translate for the hearing impaired. But this is the first time an entire speech was delivered in a language other than English. 

Virginia has the ninth-largest immigrant population in the country, with more than 903,000 foreign-born residents.  

The Senate voted Tuesday 82-to-15 to move the legislation forward. The floor debate continues — in English — and is expected to continue for most of June.

The House is expected to introduce its own comprehensive immigration bill as early as next week. House "Gang of Seven" member Zoe Lofgren of San Jose says the health care issue has been resolved with no subsidies for undocumented immigrants to buy into the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.


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