WASHINGTON – Delving into a pair of controversial side issues springing from the heated national immigration debate, President Bush said on Friday that the national anthem should be sung in English – not Spanish – and that he opposed the national boycott by immigrants planned Monday.

“People who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English. And they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English,” Bush said during a Rose Garden news conference.

He also disagreed with the upcoming boycott of work, schools and businesses. Monday. Organizers say they want to signal the nation, and especially Congress as it considers immigration legislation, that immigrants are essential elements of the nation’s everyday life.

“I’m not a supporter of boycotts,” Bush said, responding to a question on the issue.

It was “very important,” he added, “that we not lose our national soul,” during increasingly rancorous immigration debate that has engulfed the nation.

“One of the great things about America is that we’ve been able to take people from all walks of life bound as one nation under God,” Bush said. “That’s the challenge ahead of us.”

The president has not endorsed any specific immigration plan in Congress. But he reiterated his call for a multi-faceted measure that would tighten border security, establish a new temporary guest worker program and provide illegal immigrants with a framework for eventual citizenship.

In most cases, immigrants seeking citizenship must have at least the basic ability to read, write and speak English. But some of the measures pending in Congress would toughen the standards.

Bush made clear, however, that he was not endorsing any sort of “automatic amnesty” and wanted illegal immigrants to begin their path toward citizenship at the back of the line.

“That’s what I’m for – a comprehensive plan,” he said. “I think we can get one done if people will set aside politics and focus on what’s best for the United States of America.”

The two side issues that confronted him Friday, though, have sparked plenty of controversy of their own.

The national anthem in Spanish, “Nuestro Himno,” has been a hot topic on talk radio, cable television and blogs. And the president’s opposition is sure to stoke the debate even further.

The intention of the just released Spanish recording is not to discourage immigrants from “learning English and embracing American culture,” British music producer Adam Kidron told The Associated Press, but rather to give those who don’t speak English “the opportunity to fully understand the character of the Star-Spangled Banner, the American flag and the ideals of freedom that they represent.”

Juan Carlos Ruiz, coordinator of National Capital Immigration Coalition, told KENS-TV in San Antonio that he respected the president’s position, but respectfully disagreed.

“This is not the end,” Ruiz said of the national anthem in Spanish. “We want people to learn the meaning of the words, so when they sing the songs, they can really know what they are saying, so they can learn the language and be part of the United States.”

But Bush, who speaks Spanish, left no doubt when a reporter asked whether he believed the national anthem would hold the same value if it were sung in Spanish.

“No,” he said, without hesitation. “I don’t.”

Some boycott organizers predict millions of legal – and illegal – immigrants will join Monday’s protest. But even some advocates are split on its merits, clouding the turnout projections.

Whatever the numbers, Bush urged that people express their views peacefully and respectfully, suggesting the debate already had become too “highly charged.”