The adult immigrant population has continued to grow on Long Island and the rest of the state as the number of seats available for English classes has declined, according to an updated study of census and enrollment data issued Thursday.
Nassau and Suffolk counties placed second and third, respectively, among New York counties for the percentage growth of their immigrant adults between 2005 and 2013, the years studied by the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank on economic development issues based in Manhattan.
Nassau saw its adult immigrant population that speaks English “less than very well” jump by 40 percent to 140,847, and Suffolk’s of immigrants with limited English proficiency grew by 33 percent to 121,572 during the eight-year period. Only Albany, where the number of immigrants 18 and older needing to learn the language jumped by 82 percent to more than 9,000, saw a higher spike.
Only 4 percent of the Nassau County immigrants and 6 percent of the Suffolk County immigrants were enrolled in state-funded classes of English for Speakers of Other Languages, known as ESOL. Across New York, the adult immigrant population grew by 14 percent in that period, while the percentage of state-funded classes declined by nearly 32 percent.
Immigrants “are replenishing lost population and they are fueling new growth,” but they are largely lacking an important tool, said Jonathan Bowles, the Center for an Urban Future’s director. “State and local governments really need to step in because historically that’s who’s paid for ESOL and workforce development programs.”
Immigrants, who generally have not been opting out of classes, can’t enroll because there aren’t enough programs in places they can access, say immigrant advocates.
While the analysis found that state funding for ESOL has remained relatively stable — going from $77.8 million under Gov. George Pataki in 2005 to $78.7 million under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014 — that funding hasn’t kept pace with growth.
Cuomo’s office did not comment Thursday, but he has supported English-learning programs through the state’s Office for New Americans.
Demand is not in question, said Julie Quinton, adult education programs director for Make The Road New York, a Latino-advocacy group with offices and English classes in Brentwood and in the New York City neighborhoods of Bushwick, Jackson Heights, Midland Beach and Port Richmond.
The group offers eight to 10 hours of free English classes a week for up to 11 months each year — and that’s not enough.
“We get a tremendous amount of interest and we maintain waiting lists in all of our offices,” Quinton said. “It’s complicated and hard for community-based programs” funded with state dollars and private donations. “There hasn’t been a recognition of how important this is to help people find jobs and integrate into civic life.”
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