English proficiency is key to immigrant success
by Melissa Mark-Viverito
In New York, providing support for our immigrant communities is personal. Four out of 10 City residents are immigrants and collectively contributed close to $260 billion to the Big Apple’s economy in 2015. What is more, a majority of immigrant New Yorkers belongs to mixed-status families composed of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and undocumented residents. They are integral to our broader society, a fact too often overlooked by many. So it is unfortunate to see that the Mayor’s Executive Budget fails to provide adequate support for the growing needs of our immigrant communities. To ensure we open the doors to opportunity, my colleagues and I are strongly urging the Administration to invest $16 million for English literacy, adult education and GED preparation, as outlined in our Response to the Preliminary Budget. Between 2000 and 2011, neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of immigrants had stronger business growth than the rest of the City. Immigrants have helped revitalize neighborhoods such as Coney Island, Corona, Elmhurst, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Washington Heights and many others.
Building capacity for immigrant New Yorkers is critical, and to do so, they need to have access to adult literacy programs. Gaining proficiency in English is essential to securing job opportunities and to participation in the civic, social and economic life of this City.
Nearly 25 percent of immigrant residents speak little or no English, yet at any given time, over 14,000 individuals are on waitlists for English literacy and education programs. Low adult literacy has an outsized impact on parents, their children and their communities. Limited English proficiency traps immigrants into low-paying jobs and puts a strain on their ability to support their families and move ahead economically. Their children reach school with an English-language deficit. Currently, of the 140,000 English Language Learners in our public schools, the majority are U.S. citizens born to immigrant parents. Poor English-language proficiency also affects parents’ ability to get involved with and advocate for their children’s education. Although English-language proficiency is not a requirement to apply for DACA and Expanded DACA, there is an educational requirement that can be met if you are enrolled in an Adult Literacy Program that meets certain criteria. This can be significant to the estimated 16,000 to 24,000 undocumented residents in New York City, who may be eligible for these deportation relief programs. There are 1.8 million immigrant New Yorkers who require the tools necessary to ensure they can thrive and, like previous generations, contribute to keep New York the great immigrant city that it is today, and will continue to be tomorrow. Their success, our success, rests on their ability to take full advantage of being New Yorkers. There is no other option.
The writer is the Speaker of the New York City Council