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MUST READ: 'English-only' ad draws national debate to Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- An ''English-only'' ad by a candidate in the Alabama governor's race has drawn the state into the national debate over immigration stoked by a tough new Arizona law and generated an Internet crowd for the political scion running in a crowded Republican field.

The ad by construction business owner and candidate Tim James -- viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube since its release last week -- is also generating criticism from rivals and advocates that it could reverse years of economic development based on luring foreign companies, including carmakers from Germany, Japan and South Korea.

James, son of former two-term Alabama governor Fob James Jr., said in the ad that he would drop the practice of giving the state drivers license exam in 12 languages other than English.

''This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it,'' James said.

In James' view, it will make highways safer, save the state money and hasten the assimilation of legal immigrants into Alabama society.

The ad comes as members of both parties in Congress maneuver to either add or duck immigration as a midterm election issue and as immigration advocates file legal challenges a new Arizona law that makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime enforced by police.

Critics said James' idea is counterproductive in a state that has received substantial help from 358 foreign businesses to build a manufacturing base that includes Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Honda auto assembly plants. They point to 40 other states -- including every one in the Southeast -- that compete with Alabama for new industry give the test in multiple languages.

State officials don't have numbers tracking how many foreigners work in the state. Many of them are managers, engineers and other high-salary employees who may have non-English speaking spouses. In 2000, according to the last U.S. Census, there were 108,000 people in Alabama, or 2.9 percent of the state's population, who spoke a language other than English at home.