LatinaLista — One guarantee of any comprehensive immigration reform bill is that it will require all immigrants to learn English and attain a level of proficiency.
When that happens, lawsuits challenging the validity of English tests, like the Fresno case where two dozen minority women were laid off from a manufacturing plant after failing to get perfect scores on an English-only skills test, will be harder to justify to the courts, unless one thing happens, and happens now — offer more English classes to meet the demand.
Currently, cities are reporting that demand for English classes is exceeding supply. Some businesses have decided to hire their own teachers and implement English-learning programs in-house.
Yet, that still leaves a large, large number of people without access to English classes.
In Dallas, Texas, the number of ESL classes offered by the public schools and libraries were drastically reduced during the past year. One Dallas multicultural organization, DFW International, that serves as a central clearinghouse for news and requests from a variety of non-profit ethnic organizations, reports that they receive several calls each week from individuals, organization leaders, and individuals who are seeking citizenship classes, “but only ONE CITIZENSHIP class is offered within the city limits of Dallas (and it serves only 15 students!).
These lack of ESL and citizenship classes are not unique to Dallas. Every major city and town with a sizeable non-English speaking population is experiencing the same shortage.
Yet, the politicians and city leaders in some of these cities and towns are the same ones who make a big deal over the fact immigrants within their communities are not proficient in English.
It is disingenuous to complain or blame people who have limited resources and access to classes they want to enroll in but are held back from doing so because of a lack of availability.
To get 11 million people prepared for a test they know they must all pass, one would think there would be more innovative ideas put into play to help these people reach a goal they desperately want.
For example, a partnership could be created between public television and the federal government and/or Univision and Telemundo to broadcast ESL programming.
Have colleges create a community service component where their students receive training and would teach a semester of ESL classes.
College graduates who teach ESL would get a portion of their student debt forgiven.
Create a Job Bank program where people who are out of work would receive training and teach ESL classes that would count towards meeting their weekly requirements in searching for a job.
Provide a tax incentive to businesses who teach their employees English if at least 25 percent are non-English speaking.
Each of these examples is doable and some must begin now if any immigration reform bill is to achieve its objective in a timely manner.
It takes a while for any person to gain proficiency in a foreign language. When reading is added to the mix, it can complicate, confuse, frustrate and slow down the process.
If the federal government is serious about working on immigration reform, it can start now to work with local communities to make more ESL and citizenship classes available to a group of future citizens who have fully embraced the U.S. as their home, but feel the language hasn’t embraced them.