MALDEF Strongly Supports Introduction of “Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act of 2009”

Immigrant integration is essential for Latino progress

July 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, welcomes the introduction of “Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education and English Skills Act of 2009” (SUCCESS). Introduced by U.S. Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), the legislations aims to invest resources in the education of English language learners of all ages and empowers communities to focus on language acquisition and successful integration into their new homes.

“During these tough economic times, Representative Honda and Senator Gillibrand have shown great leadership by introducing a bill that not only assists English Language Learners with improving their language skills, but also provides the tools necessary for new Americans to succeed in our workforce,” stated Henry Solano, MALDEF’s outgoing Interim President and General Counsel. “This legislation provides a pro-active approach to language acquisition that rewards those who facilitate integration, not forced assimilation.”

The number of English language learners (ELLs) in America’s public school system has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, and is expected to reach 25 percent of the public school population by 2025. As the U.S. workforce ages, the economy increasingly depends on recent arrivals. New immigrants represented at least two-thirds of the growth in the U.S. civilian labor force in the last three years, and experts project that, between 2010 and 2030, immigrants will account for all of the growth in the domestic labor market.

“As the limited English proficient (LEP) population continues to grow, it is critical that we provide the necessary resources for English language acquisition. A recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center suggests that by the year 2050 Latinos will comprise 30 percent of the U.S.,” stated California Representative Mike Honda. “This bill provides communities with the framework and the resources they need to successfully integrate language minorities through literacy, civics and basic education programs to help provide practical solutions for rational immigrant integration polices.”

An earlier version of the bill was introduced last year by then Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Representative Honda, with endorsement from over 200 organizations. MALDEF played a key role in drafting the legislation and educating the community about the importance of integration and language acquisition. In effort to keep the momentum going, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged incoming Senator Gillibrand to endorse the issue and move it forward.

“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 much needed additional resources.”

In our nation today, nearly 80 percent of the Latino population speaks Spanish as a first language, regardless of their legal status. Without proper language acquisition, English language learners are at a severe disadvantage to acquiring quality jobs, healthcare, education, and full civic participation in society. As the legislation provides essential resources to Spanish-speaking communities, it ultimately paves the way for a more prosperous future for our nation.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund