Two New York lawmakers are spearheading efforts in Washington to empower immigrants to learn English, thereby boosting the ailing economy.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn) unveiled a bill Monday for more funding to teach immigrants English, U.S. history and civics.
"We would be remiss if we miss this opportunity to utilize every breathing living person amongst us – to bring them up to optimum productivity," Clarke said of giving immigrants a chance to get a firm grasp of the language.
The bill, unveiled at a news conference in immigrant-rich Elmhurst, calls for $200 million in funding for fiscal year 2010. That is a jump from the $70 million allocated for this fiscal year.
New York is home to 1.5 million people who need language instruction and less than 100,000 have access to it, Clarke said.
New York City received $8.7 million of that $70 million, but Clarke said that’s not enough.
The proposed legislation would give tax breaks to teachers who work with immigrants as well as employers who provide for their workers to learn English.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said they support the bill.
"This is common-sense legislation," Liu said. With the economy flailing, "this is precisely the time when we should be boosting as many people skills as possible."
"We need to give parents, family members and business owners the opportunity," Ferreras said. "And this country can very well afford that."
Freddy Castiblanco, who emigrated from Colombia as a doctor 10 years ago, said language barriers can prevent upward mobility.
"This legislation will empower our workers," said Castiblanco, who now owns the Terraza Cafe in Elmhurst.
Carmen Ledesma, a beauty salon owner who came to New York from Paraguay 15 years ago, said English still proves to be a struggle for her.
"I didn’t have time to study English beforehand," said Ledesma, who spent her time here working to pay for her children’s college education. "But now I do have the time."
She is currently taking sessions at the Make the Road New York Foundation and hopes to open a beauty school soon.