Noncitizens slow to learn our official language: 'Politics'
Jun. 25, 2006

Before you vote to cut off access to adult education English classes to anyone who can't prove that he's a citizen, which you will do in November, Lucy Dale would like to tell you a little bit about the students she has taught for years in such classes at South Mountain Community College.

"My students are motivated," she said. "They attend class regularly, and they study hard. They do the homework assignments and are ready for class.
For a teacher in the present day, it is heavenly. For the students it is challenging and difficult. A few drop out before the semester ends, but I often seen them return in the next semester."

Some of them, she knows, are not in this country legally. Lynn Reed, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County, estimates that about 25 percent of those studying English in adult education classes could not prove U.S. citizenship.

We don't think very kindly toward such people. That's why the measure placed on the November ballot by the Legislature will pass, as will the ballot measure making English our official language.

"I confess that I'm confused by the politicians," Dale said. "As a teacher, I get to see these people as people, not as statistics. Not as the enemy.
And what I see are people who are willing to work very long hours, and then find the transportation, by bus or a friend or walking, to get to school.
And then spend three hours there trying to learn our language. And why?
Because they want to succeed. They want better jobs. They want to be able to help their kids succeed. I'm not sure that many of us would put in that kind of effort."

Reed said the people helped by state and federally funded adult-education classes probably couldn't afford such studies on their own.

"From our experience, these are people who work hard and often for long hours," she said. "But still the average income for a large segment of this population is from about $10,000 to $15,000 per year. And that's for a family of four. They want to improve themselves. But that kind of money doesn't go very far beyond providing food and shelter."

For a significant portion of Americans, that's just fine. Actually, for a significant portion of Americans, that's too much. The fact that non-English-speaking non-citizens can find food and shelter in the United States is the reason that more of them keep trying to sneak in. Or as one man phrased it to me in an e-mail last week:

"I don't want them to learn English. I just want them to go home."

Funny thing about that. It seems to be generally accepted that the people taking English classes have jobs. Many of them have more than one job. One recent report that I saw indicated that in 2005 approximately 18,000 adults took such classes and that thousands more were on waiting lists.

A practical person, particularly a practical business owner, would tell you that a motivated, reliable worker with the desire to improve himself is a boon for both his employer and for the local economy. And that the loss of such workers would hurt the local economy.

But that's not what a practical politician would say. A practical politician, like those who run the show in Arizona, would say that the best way to get re-elected is to make demons out of undocumented immigrants and promise to punish them every chance he or she gets.

There's an official English word for actions that make no sense other than to benefit elected officials: "Politics."

Reach Montini at (602) 444-8978 or Read his
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