More than 100 protestors rallied Wednesday on the steps of City Hall demanding Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council save free English classes for immigrants.
The demonstrators were joined by City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), immigrant and community leaders to denounce plans to slash funds for the Council’s Immigrant Opportunities Initiative. They called for its full restoration in the proposed city budget.
"We rallied to save the IOI," said Dromm, chairman of the Council’s Immigration Committee. "We want to ensure funding is not cut. It was at $5 million in 2010, after a cut of more than 50% in 2009. We want to keep it at the same level."
Further cuts would be disastrous since the IOI is a main sources of funding at the city level for English as a Second Language classes serving nearly 62,000 people. **
It also provides critical legal services, helping immigrants protect themselves against workplace exploitation and offers advice in cases of domestic violence and housing.
Dromm said that he hopes the mayor and the Council will agree that the IOI is a top priority and must be preserved.
"The people that have the least are the ones affected the most and are the last ones to recover," Dromm said. "These are crucial services for immigrants in New York City."
We all have heard people say things like, "When my grandparents came to America, they really wanted to learn English. Now immigrants don’t care anymore."
But don’t believe it, it’s nothing but a big myth.
"It is not true, we are anxious to learn English," said Carla Trujillo, 43, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in Sunset Park for 10 years and is the mother of a 9-year-old son. "We want to fully integrate to this society and to get to know American culture….We need to learn English because if we don’t it is as if we were mute, as if we did not have voices," Trujillo added.
The truth is that so many immigrants want to learn English that there are never enough programs to accommodate all of them.
Despite the huge demand, the mayor proposed $11.68 million in cuts to ESL and adult literacy programs. The slash would take $5.18 million from the Department of Youth and Community Development Adult Literacy Programs and eliminating the $5 million Immigrant Opportunities Initiative and the $1.5 million Adult Literacy Services Initiative.
The need is tremendous. About a quarter of adults in the city – about 1.23 million – have inadequate English skills, but only 62,467 are enrolled in government-funded literacy programs.
They come from all over the world.
A recent intermediate ESL class at the Jackson Heights Library consisted of 30 students from such diverse nations as Bangladesh, Egypt, Colombia, Peru, India, China, Korea, Russia and Moldova. The class is covered under a different budget but is also at risk of being drastically cut.
If the budget cuts go through, these programs will be unavailable to non-English speaking New Yorkers. If that is the case, no one should blame them for not learning English.
Dromm is hopeful. He believes that Council Speaker Christine Quinn will continue to support the IOI.
While he praised Bloomberg for speaking out about immigrant issues Dromm warned the mayor, "It is time to put your money where your mouth is."
Rafael de los Santos, 55, a Dominican immigrant who works at a New Jersey window factory and takes ESL classes at the nonprofit Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation is passionate about education.
"We have to defend education," he said. "Without it we can’t get good jobs and contribute to society."
** Make the Road New York supports having ESL classes for immigrants.