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Clarke, Gillibrand Announce New Legislation to Help More New Yorkers Learn English

New York, NY — Local elected officials, community groups, educators and business owners gathered today outside of a small business in Elmhurst, Queens, to support new legislation announced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke that will give immigrant communities the English language skills, and the basic grasp of U.S. history and civics they need to grow and thrive in America for the long term. New York City is home to 1.5 million people who need English language instruction, but only a fraction – less than 100,000 – have access to it. The Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act of 2009 contains a number of measures to provide new opportunities for New York’s immigrants to thrive in our communities and in our economy.

“For centuries, families have come to America from every corner of the globe looking for a better opportunity to pursue their dreams and become Americans – and in the process, they built our communities, our traditions, our way of life and our economy,” said Senator Gillibrand. “But only a small fraction of immigrants are getting access to learn the skills needed to integrate successfully and be part of a growing economy. This legislation provides strong federal investments needed to help businesses offer English training to their workers, generate the teachers needed to educate more English language learners, and provide additional resources to give our immigrant communities a path to becoming citizens and building a brighter future.”

“As the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, I have a special affinity for this bill because I understand firsthand the immigrants’ struggle” Congresswoman Clarke stated.  “I know that having a strong command of the English language is a necessity if you want to succeed in today’s society. However, many immigrants are denied the opportunity to learn English due to the limited number of English Language Learner classes. This bill would increase the number of English Language Learner classes by providing tax breaks for businesses that offer English language classes to their employees. Another goal of this bill is to provide tax breaks to incentivize teaching English to immigrants. Finally, this bill offers more than 200 million dollars in increased funding from the US Department of Education, which will be used to assist in expanding access to English Language Learner classes.”

“I applaud Senator Gillibrand for her visionary work.  This bill is a sound business model: It gives companies the incentives to help immigrant workers be more productive, and it gives new Americans the chance to fully invest in the job opportunities and experiences of their new home,” said Councilman John Liu.  “Immigrants, like parents, arrive in cities and towns across our country in search of a better life for their children and families, but often their lack of English proficiency shuts the door on good, stable jobs.  This bill is a great step forward for the immigrant community.”

The Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act of 2009 would provide the following opportunities for our immigrant communities to thrive in our economy and become new Americans:

  • Tax Breaks for Businesses that Offer English Literacy Programs for Employees. Businesses that provide English language and financial literacy training for their employees will receive a 20% tax credit for those expenses – up to $1,000 per employees;
  • Tax Breaks to Incentivize Educators to Teach English to Immigrants. Teachers who work with immigrants to improve their English skills would receive tax breaks up to $750 per year for the first five years of their teaching services – and $500 thereafter for each additional year for up to 10 years;
  • Upgrade English Literacy Instruction Classes. To make sure immigrants get access to the training and education they need to advance in their careers, improve their lives and thrive in the economy, the legislation would provide access to a comprehensive educational experience, including lessons on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, naturalization proceedings, civic participation, as well as U.S. history and government;
  • More than Double Department of Education Grants for States to $200 Million. To make sure states have the resources they need to improve English language classes and expand access to them, the legislation would double the amount the Department of Education provides for states from less than $70 million this year to $200 million in FY 2010 – with increasing amounts the following two fiscal years. The bill would also make sure that the majority of the funding would go to states with the greatest size and growth in their immigrant population to make sure New York gets its fair share from the government;
  • Provide Technical Assistance to Faith-Based and Community Organizations. To make sure federal resources are getting where they are needed most, Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will offer technical assistance to faith-based and community organizations trying to navigate federal grants programs to provide English language learning services in their communities;
  • Improve Resources from the Revamped Office of Citizenship and New Americans. The legislation would require the newly revamped Office of Citizenship and New Americans in the Department of Homeland Security to enhance its efforts to integrate immigrants into our communities, promote instruction and training on citizenship responsibilities, and develop better educational materials for immigrants pursuing citizenship;
  • Increase Grants for State-Based New American Councils. To make sure we have the resources we need to improve the way we integrate immigrants, the legislation would increase federal investments for state-based New American Councils – groups of local business leaders, faith-based and community organization leaders, local elected officials, philanthropists and educators dedicated to providing better opportunities for our immigrant communities;
  • Raise National Awareness for New Opportunities. The legislation would direct Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to enhance public awareness of new educational and naturalization opportunities to make sure that our immigrant communities know that there is a path to a bright future available to them and their families.

“We applaud Senator Gillibrand’s leadership and vision,” said Ana María Archila, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road New York. “Senator Gillibrand’s bill rewards the leadership of educators and employers, including thousands of small business owners, who work hard to expand opportunities for immigrant workers to learn English and integrate fully into our society. This bill recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for integration of new Americans into the social and economic fabric of this country.”

“At LaGuardia Community College, we see new Americans hungry to learn English so they can obtain good jobs and get on the path towards citizenship.  In fact, we have a waiting list of hundreds of people wanting to learn English,” said Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College. “Senator Gillibrand’s proposal will help meet that demand and create the next generation of Americans who can build not only their future, but that of our nation.”

“Senators Gillibrand and Alexander are proposing legislation that will allow more Americans as well as newcomers to this nation to have greater economic opportunities through English language courses and by furthering their skills through adult education programs,” said Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, President of Hispanic Federation.  “During these difficult economic times, these programs are sorely needed in order to advance employment options for workers in this country.”

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is proud to support this important bi-partisan legislation,” said Randel K. Johnson, Senior Vice President of the Chamber.  “The employer tax credits provided in the bill will encourage large and small companies alike to offer programs to teach English to their employees,” he added.  “The breadth of programs available under the proposed legislation provides a solid array of competent educational choices for businesses of every size and in every sector. The Chamber looks forward to a continued public-private partnership to help the American workforce obtain the tools it needs to succeed.”

“Ten years ago, when I came to NYC, I paid thousands of dollars for English classes, but I had to stop studying because I couldn’t continue to pay,” said Freddy Castiblanco, a small business owner in Queens. “Although I have been able to succeed and open a small business, I also want to put to use all the knowledge I gained as a trained physician. I am eager to resume my studies in Public Health, but learning English is the first step. The bill introduced by Senator Gillibrand will expand opportunities for learning English for my employees as well as myself.”

“I know that learning the English language is an important asset to any profession,” said Carmen Ledesma, a small business owner in Queens. “Currently, I am studying English at Make the Road New York with one of my employees. We take time out to study English because we know that learning the language is crucial to the success of the business and a crucial skill for us to get ahead. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will make sure that more people like myself are able to access opportunities for learning English in our communities.”