Aliens’ English classes to cost billions; cost estimated for 6.4 million illegals
Providing classes for legal immigrants and illegal aliens to learn enough English to assimilate into U.S. society would cost an extra $18 billion over six years, says a new study.
States and the federal government already spend about $1 billion annually on English instruction for immigrants, but the Migration Policy Institute says an additional $200 million a year is needed to provide English classes for legal immigrants and $2.9 billion a year to cover illegal aliens.
“Ensuring that immigrants have the opportunity to acquire strong English language and literacy skills is among the most neglected domestic policy issues in our nation today,” the report’s authors wrote.
The Senate immigration bill defeated in June would have required illegal aliens to prove their English skills after they earned legal status but before they could gain a green card, which is the interim step to citizenship.
MPI, a think tank that studies migration patterns and immigration’s effects, estimated that would have applied to 6.4 million illegal aliens, and would have required 1.9 billion man-hours of English instruction over six years. For legal immigrants, 5.8 million need English instruction, totaling 1.7 billion man-hours of classroom time.
Assimilation is playing a bigger role in the immigration debate, and English has become a primary test of assimilation. The report’s authors said it’s clear any bill that does pass in the future will call for illegal aliens to demonstrate English skills.
And President Bush called for both legal immigrants and illegal aliens to learn the language to prove they want to be part of society.
But Americans don’t believe im- migrants are serious about trying to learn English. A CBS-New York Times poll released during the debate found that 62 percent of those surveyed said recent immigrants don’t try to learn English “within a reasonable amount of time.”
Hispanic and immigrant rights groups, though, say the problem is not that immigrants don’t want to learn, but that the waiting lines for classes are already long.
Michael Fix, one of the authors of the MPI report, said they approached the issue not from a sense of benevolence, but from the perspective of “national economic selfinterest.” He said the figures show those who have better English skills can get better jobs, and those with better jobs contribute more in taxes and productivity.
MPI said nearly half of all immigrant workers — legal and illegal — have limited English skills. And other studies have shown a large portion of legal immigrants who are eligible to apply for citizenship but have not done so cannot meet the naturalization exam’s English requirement.
The authors suggested funding new English classes from fees and fines paid by immigrants and illegal aliens, from money illegal aliens have contributed from their time working illegally into Social Security or from a new requirement that businesses who sponsor immigrants absorb the cost.
They estimated it takes 660 hours of instruction to help an immigrant with no English skills reach proficiency.
Separate worlds: Strip malls, such as this one along Route 31, cater to the large Hispanic portion of the community in Carpentersville, Ill. The village recently passed a non-binding resolution declaring English the town’s official language and is considering a law making it illegal to rent to or hire illegal immigrants.