Much of the early criticism of the Senate immigration bill focused on what opponents claimed were lax border-security provisions, but there also is strong skepticism over the requirement that those seeking U.S. citizenship be required to learn English.
Suzanne Bibby, director of government relations for ProEnglish, told Newsmax last week that neither an amendment offered by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida nor a substitute amendment offered by Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota to replace the Gang of Eight bill would "require illegal aliens who obtain Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to demonstrate proficiency in English at any time."
Under the Gang of Eight bill currently before the Senate, immigrants seeking employment in the United States would not have to prove minimal English ability.
Instead, Bibby told Newsmax, "After 10 years of legal status, they can seek to apply for a green card. To obtain the green card, they will have to demonstrate English skills. And to do this, they can simply show they are enrolled in an English course, although the bill provides a gaping loophole that does not actually require them to prove that they passed the course or have attained proficiency in the language."
Bibby, whose organization advocates English as the official language of the United States, pointed out that Rubio’s amendment "does not address the lack of any English language requirement for the renewals of [registered provisional immigrant] status. In other words, an alien seeking to work in the U.S. as an RPI can renew temporary status every six years for the rest of his or her life and never be subject to an English language requirement or proficiency test."
She added that none of the amendments offered by any senator to the immigration package requires any form of proficiency test in English for RPIs desiring to work in the United States.
The Corker-Hoeven substitute "does not contain any new requirements for mastery of English and does not even contain the proposed Rubio English amendment that would simply strike the option of RPIs enrolling in an English class to satisfy their 'English skills' to obtain a green card," said Bibby.
In most European Union nations, the standards for understanding the language of the country where immigrants seek entry are far stricter.
According to Austrian sociolinguist and author Ruth Wodak, "Where it used to be that most European countries required immigrants to learn the language of their country upon settling there, some nations now require immigrants to have already mastered their language before being allowed to settle and work there."
She cited the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria as examples of countries that require an understanding of English and German, respectively, for work and citizenship. Wodak pointed out to Newsmax that "these rules only relate to immigrants from countries outside the European Union, as the EU guarantees freedom of movement as one of its constitutive measures."
Mastery of English initially appeared to be a point in the immigration reform package that all sides would agree upon with little argument.
In reply to a question from Newsmax last week about English requirements for immigrants, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, "Speaking English is definitely an asset for seeking employment in the U.S., and there must be a plan for immigrants to gain the skills they need to do this."
"Our union halls can provide the training they need to get those skills and equipping our members with the skills they need to obtain employment," said Trumka. His reference to "our members" was an obvious suggestion that immigrants learning English in union halls eventually would join the unions.
At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast two weeks ago, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a member of the Gang of Eight, told reporters that "one of our requirements [for immigrants seeking green card status] is that you are learning English … and you must clarify that you are enrolled in English classes."
But English proficiency appears to have fallen by the wayside as the immigration bill progressed through the Senate. Now it is for the House to decide whether any final measure includes real requirement to speak the language.
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