A major complaint that disgruntled residents voice is that the majority of the undocumented immigrants, most of whom are Latino, do not speak English. Many of them do try to learn, but learning a language is hard and takes a long time. Many simply don’t have time to go to classes between their jobs and family responsibilities. These people realize they would have an easier time if they spoke and understood English, but since they are here illegally and could be deported at any moment, there is not much incentive to learn.
If the undocumented people were given legal status and one of the requirements for them to stay was to learn English, they would have a much better reason to study. If you or I were living for an unknown period of time in a foreign country working up to 100 hours a week just to survive, I doubt that we would make the time to learn the language if we were able to live without it.
These workers don’t feel welcome, don’t feel included in life here, usually feel they have no reason to do anything more than the minimum to live here. I wonder if we would feel differently. I think we would feel like visitors, and visitors rarely try to assimilate.
More English classes and tutors would have to be provided; the classes available now have waiting lists as long as two years in many places. The federal government would have to provide funds for more ESL classes and the people who resent that the immigrants don’t speak English will have to back legislation that will fund these classes. If they vote against funding the classes the immigrants will never have a chance to learn.
Many benefits will occur when all residents know our national language. Simple things like making the lines in the grocery store and bank move faster, neighbors getting along because they can discuss problems, safer traffic when everyone is able to read the signs. And more complex things like women knowing they can report domestic violence to emergency workers, parents and teachers able to discuss a child’s progress, everyone being able to discuss problems with a doctor, and understanding contracts and agreements when they lease or buy something.
If parents had to learn English, which first generation immigrants have always struggled with, they would be better able to help their children with their school work and encourage them to do well in school. It would also give their children more incentive to become proficient in English. Many children who are born here, yet live in a home where the parents speak no English and few of the neighbors do either, do not become proficient in English. Children all over the world are learning English, knowing that anyone who is bilingual has a huge advantage, yet many children born here are falling behind and are not learning our national language.
The dropout rate for immigrant children in high school is very high, especially for Latino students. They know that even if they do well in high school, they won’t be able to attend college at a price their families can afford. Most states charge illegal immigrants out-of-state tuition and they aren’t eligible for grants or scholarships. If they get over that hurdle and do well in college and get a degree, they can’t get a job with that degree because they are here illegally. The only jobs they can get are in hotels, restaurants, farms and others that are low wage. This defeats the purpose of their education and our country loses the benefits of these well educated young people.
If these children were given legal status, think of the incentive they would have to succeed in school. Our tax dollars are paying to educate them, we should be looking for ways to encourage them to do well in school. If we have more students successfully graduating from high school and going on to college this country will benefit. Many immigrant children will return to the same communities their parents live in, so the cities that educated the children get the benefit of their employment and tax money for many more years.
If these college students get their degrees and go on to highly skilled jobs, we would not have the shortage of high skilled workers we are experiencing now. The H-1B visa quota for high skilled immigrants is filled early every year. Companies then have to out-source their work, or worse, not be able to start new projects or do research and development. Some of these jobs don’t require college degrees, but they do require bright young people who are educated in high school math and science and can be trained in the high tech jobs.
Students who earn a degree get better jobs, pay more taxes, purchase more cars, electronics, houses and often start their own companies. These companies, in turn, employ more workers and pay more taxes. This is usually thought of as the American way.
Learning English and getting a good education are the most important things new residents can do here and when these two things happen, everyone benefits.
We all know the undocumented people living here have broken the law by coming in illegally or overstaying their visa and yet, something has to be done to get them registered and legalized. A majority of our citizens say we should find a way to solve this problem. This country needs them.
In the first column of this series, I listed several areas where we will all benefit when there is immigration reform which would legalize the millions of people living here illegally; the military, Social Security, our economy, our future economy, education and national security. The first column talked about our economy, the second one was about Social Security and the military. This one was about language and education. The next one will discuss national security and some others.