Illinois: help legal immigrants to learn English to better assimilate

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Dec 28 17:56:29 UTC 2006

Governor should reject aid to illegal immigrants

Wednesday, December 27, 2006 12:17 AM CST

Helping legal immigrants in Illinois to learn English so they can better
assimilate into and contribute to society is a good idea. A pair of state
panels looking into ways to help immigrants should have stopped there. But
they didn't. Recommendations from the New American's Policy Council and
the state's Interagency Task Force included English training for all
interested immigrants, regardless of whether they are legal or
"undocumented." So-called welcome centers, providing one-stop shopping for
health-care, employment and housing assistance - in addition to language
education - also were part of the proposals.

The price tag is $25 million in new money, not counting existing resources
that would be reallocated to this effort. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who
created these two groups by executive order about a year ago, should smile
politely, say "thank you" and shelve any recommendations that try to
pretend there is no difference between legal and illegal immigrants. To do
otherwise would be an insult to those who followed the rules in coming to
this country and an affront to taxpayers providing the money for these
services. Yes, even some illegal immigrants pay taxes. But the bulk of the
money still comes from taxpayers who are here legally. Other needs in
Illinois should take precedence over providing services to people who are
not supposed to be here.

The state might even run afoul of federal law if it provides services to
illegal immigrants. Having more dual-language schools - in which
immigrants are taught in their native language part of the day - also was
recommended. Depending on how such a recommendation is implemented, it
could result in another unfunded state mandate for already heavily
burdened school districts and their taxpayers. The proposed "We Want to
Learn English" campaign would enlist the state's community colleges to
provide more classes. Heartland Community College already offers free
English as a Second Language classes in the daytime, evening and Saturdays
through its adult education program. And demand is growing.

Jill Blair, coordinator of Heartland's ESL program, said 216 students took
the classes in the 2005-06 academic year. This year about 150 students
participated in the first semester. When Blair first came to Heartland in
the fall of 2003, about 80 students took English as a Second Language
classes. Such classes benefit the community as well as the students in
them. The program is paid for through grants from the federal and state
government. These classes should be encouraged, but the welcome centers
are not welcome.

Copyright  2006, Pantagraph Publishing Co. All rights reserved.


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