At a time when people are tightening their belts, and local and state governments are cutting back spending, there is one area that is in dire need of funding. The Illinois Adult Education system is in need of further investment, especially in its offerings of English as a second language classes.
Many immigrants from around the world flock to the United States for better opportunities for themselves and for their children. One of the key factors to integrating into a society and contributing to that society is having an understanding of the mainstream language of that society. Though it is believed by many that there are a plethora of opportunities for adult learners to acquire the English language, this is simply not true.
In fact, a report issued by the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights found that statewide only 15.7 percent of the potential English language learners are able to access classes. What this means is that only 87,606 of the 558,000 English learners in Illinois have the opportunity to take classes to learn the English language.
It is quite disheartening that at times we hear people say things like, “Why can’t they just learn English?” or people advocate for “English only” initiatives when we are not even meeting the need of more than a million immigrants which we allowed into our society. Furthermore, even though immigrants represent 13.8 percent of the Illinois total population, only 5 percent of the state budget is allocated to this population. Lastly, immigrants contribute to society in real ways; for instance, on average they have a lower incidence of unemployment, and they represent 17.8 percent of the Illinois civilian workforce, though being only 13.8 percent of the total population.
Being a nation founded by immigrants, we need to extend our hand to those who are now attempting to find their home here, just as many of our own ancestors did. A way to do this is to press our government representatives to consider the immigrant populations when creating the budgets. We can also participate in programs such as the Neighbor to Neighbor Program that is offered through organizations like Instituto del Progreso Latino, Erie House and Association House of Chicago.
This ESL tutoring program only requires a commitment of two hours a week. These are just little things that everyday people can do to affect the life of a newcomer to this nation. We extended the invite to our home, we should now do all we can to help them make it their home too.
Oak Parker Dylan Bellisle is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.