Act would increase access to ESL programs
by Grace Carmen
Jul 21, 2009 | 1344 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Outside of the Terraza Café in Elmhurst, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Councilman John Liu, and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras announced a new piece of legislation on Monday that will help immigrants learn the English language, civics, and U.S. history.

The Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act of 2009 contains a number of measures aimed at the 1.4 million people in New York City who do not have access to language instruction, placing a severe handicap on their ability to move up and thrive in our economy.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was not able to attend the event, although she is largely responsible for the creation of the Act. Congresswoman Clarke led the bill's introduction among local elected officials, community groups, educators and business owners, commending Senator Gillibrand for her vision and quoted her as saying that "for centuries, families have come to America from every corner of the globe looking for a better opportunity to pursue their dreams and become Americans - and in the process, they built our communities, our traditions, our way of life and our economy."

The Act, if passed by Congress and signed by the president, would increase the number of English language classes by giving tax breaks to businesses that offer English language classes for their employees; provide tax breaks to incentivize teaching English to immigrants; and give more than $200 million in increased funding from the U.S. Department of Education to assist in expanding access to more English classes.

All three elected officials are products of recent immigration and realize firsthand the impact this bill could have on the community. Ferreras represents District 21, which has the most diverse zip code in the country with over 180 languages, and understands what "civic education is to our families, what it is to our children."

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, hopes to see this bill go into effect sooner rather than later, and recognizes that having a strong command of the English language "is a necessity if you want to succeed in today's society."

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