Supporters of a constitutional amendment to make English the country's official language fear that Hispanics are "taking over," says a congressman who opposes the idea.

"If it is a symbolic measure with no impact whatsoever on our rights, then it is a frivolous exercise," Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Texas, told the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and criminal rights Wednesday."If it restricts civil rights on the basis of one's proficiency in English, then it is divisive and a dangerous amendment," said Bustamante, a former migrant worker who is the son and grandson of Mexican-American migrant workers.

Supporters testified Wednesday that the amendment was not intended to stifle freedom, but rather to clarify public policy and give legal protection to English, the glue that holds the country together.

Rep. Norman D. Shumway, R-Calif., said he does not want to see the nation drift unwittingly into a bilingual country.

"We cannot afford to wait a decade, or a generation, until our government is conducting its affairs in languages other than English," said Shumway, who has proposed one of the English amendments.

And Rep. William S. Broomfield, R-Mich., said: "English is our nation's language only by tradition, and if action is not taken soon, we could face a future of uncertainty in our basic communication, as well as ethnic and racial polarization."

Rep. Gerald D. Kleczka, D-Wis., an opponent, said: "It is in fact a direct attack on Hispanics. No doubt about it."

Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a member of the panel conducting the hearing, said he questioned the motives behind the movement. "What are we trying to get at here?" he asked.

After the hearing, Bustamante said advocates of official English "have this fear they (Hispanics) are taking over. They're saying . . . there's too many of them."