National Public Radio presidential debate

SEN. OBAMA: Because there are Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens who may not speak English well, and if they're seeking help, for example, on some vital health care question, or a senior citizen who immigrated here a long time ago and they're trying to get their Social Security check, I don't want them to not be able to get those services.

MR. INSKEEP: Larger question here to Senator Clinton, which is, is this country gradually going to become more a Spanish-speaking country, and should we accept that?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, there's three different points here. First, we need to have English as a common, unifying language. It's an important part of who we are and how we keep this big, diverse country of ours going.

Secondly, as Barack said, there are a lot of Americans who are citizens who speak different languages. I represent New York City. I think there's, like, 170 languages and dialects; that the city would be in total chaos if people didn't get some services and some, you know, help in the language that they actually understood.

And thirdly, you know, part of what the challenge here is is to make it clear that we do expect people who want to become legal in America to try to learn English. But that doesn't mean that they have to give up the language that they originally had, but we have to do more with English as second language, more help in schools, to get people to be able to speak and comprehend English.

MR. INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich.

REP. KUCINICH: I was able to defeat an English-only proposal in the Ohio Senate years ago when I pointed out our state founding documents were in German. We need to have our children learn languages. I mean, what is this fear of the other? Why are we separating ourselves from the possibility of being able to merge with the world? An insular and isolated America doesn't cut it. And so what I'm talking about is rebuild our economy, do it confidently, and encourage the American people to work — to reach out.

My political philosophy, I see the world as one. I see the world as being interconnected and interdependent and there being an imperative for human unity. And so we need to reach out, and education is the way to do it. Let's have our children learn languages, and let's grow our economy in a confident way, full-employment economy, jobs for all, health care for all, not-for-profit health care for all.

MR. INSKEEP: Anybody here willing to say directly that immigration, because of the millions and millions of people involved, is going to change American culture as it is in the past; America's not going to be the same kind of place it is now?

SEN. OBAMA: Of course it will. Of course it will.

MR. INSKEEP: Senator Gravel?

MR. GRAVEL: It always has been. Always has changed our society. And it's a change that's for the good.

MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden?

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, it will change our culture, but they'll all speak English. Like every other large wave of immigrants, once they (have gone ?) to a second generation, they'll all be speaking English. What's the fear here? Give me an example where that hasn't happened.

MR. INSKEEP: Senator Dodd.

SEN. DODD: Well, Dennis said something important. I believe I'm the only candidate here who speaks fluently a second language. Bill Richardson isn't here today — (cross talk).

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