Currently under U.S. immigration law, immigrants must show a proficiency in English to gain citizenship, not permanent residency. And the Senate immigration bill requires people with Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status to prove they are taking an English course that meets the Education Department’s standards to qualify for a greencard. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Gang of Eight that crafted S. 744, has said that provision is a loophole. As a result, he introduced an amendment that requires RPIs to meet the English language requirements outright before they adjust their status to Legal Permanent Residents (LPR). “You’re going to have to prove that you’re proficient in English because I think that assimilation is important,” Rubio said on the Senate floor when he introduced his amendment. “I think learning English is not just important for assimilation, it’s important for economic success. You cannot flourish in our economy, you cannot flourish in our country if you’re not proficient in English. And we’re going to require that at the green card stage.”
But there is already a shortage of free English classes. More than 1 million people were enrolled in state-administered English as a Second Language (ESL) programs in 2010, and data from the Department of Education showed that nearly 30 percent of adult education programs, which house many ESL courses, have wait lists. Rubio’s amendment would increase demand for ESL instruction without increasing the funding to address the long-standing shortage. It would hurt older, less-educated, and low-income immigrants as well as those who live in rural areas because language acquisition is difficult and many will not have been able to reach proficiency despite taking classes and making the effort. And the amendment would disproportionately affect women, many of whom are nannies or mothers and do not have the opportunity to interact with the public as much as others in their families. Requiring them to satisfy the English proficiency requirement at adjustment would leave many of these individuals in limbo status.
Considering these factors, is it fair to require immigrants to prove they are proficient in the English language before they can receive their green card, or is it sufficient to have them prove they are taking steps to become proficient?