According to a press release issued by his office today, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the original Gang of Eight who drafted the original Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill that is about to be debated on the Senate floor (S. 744), plans to introduce an amendment today that would dramatically change a key provision in the bill that provides a legalization pathway for the nation’s 11,000 undocumented immigrants. (See this post for background on the bill.)
Under the current version of S. 744, a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) cannot earn legal permanent residency (LPR) unless they establish that he or she understands English at the level of proficiency needed for citizenship; or “is satisfactorily pursuing a course of study, pursuant to standards established by the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary, to achieve an understanding of English and knowledge and understanding of the history and Government of the United States…”
Sen. Rubio’s amendment eliminates the “course of study” option. That is, he now proposes (after presumably agreeing to the original language) to strike the provision that stipulates that the English proficiency requirement can be met by pursuing a course of study, calling it a “loophole.”
But the “course of study” option really makes a lot of sense. We know that a considerable number of undocumented immigrants living here now probably cannot meet the level of English proficiency needed for citizenship. (One expert estimates it at about 55%. See update below.) The current bill doesn’t let them off the hook—it requires them to learn English, but it recognizes that not everyone is going to be able to meet the required level of proficiency right away, and that learning English takes time. Requiring citizenship-level English to qualify for LPR status, with no option to give those with limited English skills a chance to learn, will likely discourage many undocumented immigrants with limited English skills from seeking legal registration. This would defeat one of the major purposes of the bill, which was to encourage working, law-abiding undocumented immigrants to come forward.
UPDATE: 6/11/13, 7:50PM: According to this article, Max Sevillia, director of policy and legislative affairs for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), agrees that the amendment would discourage unauthorized immigrants from becoming permanent legal residents:
Max Sevillia, the director of policy and legislative affairs for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), said the amendment would create a “chilling effect” that would discourage unauthorized immigrants from becoming permanent legal residents. Sevillia said the group’s polling shows that more than 80 percent of unauthorized immigrants say they want to be proficient in English, but that the best way to help them do that is to provide high quality English classes. “They understand that English is really the gateway to improving their lives and the lives of their family,” Sevillia said. (my emphasis)
UPDATE 6/11/13, 8:00PM: Margie McHugh of the Migration Policy Institute has estimated that about 55% of undocumented immigrants wouldn’t be able to pass the English portion of the U.S. citizenship test.
5 thoughts on “Rubio Amendment Dramatically Alters English Requirement for Undocumented Immigrants”
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I have scanned S.744, but I have not been able to locate the exact spot where English language proficiency is required for LPR. Could you please give me the Title and Section numbers? Thanks.
Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center
Virginia Commonwealth University
Thanks for your question — I should have noted that in the original post.
It’s on page 983 of the bill as reported out of the Senate (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113s744rs/pdf/BILLS-113s744rs.pdf). It’s part of SEC. 2102, which concerns the adjustment of registered provisional immigrants to legal permanent residency (LPR) status (aka a green card). This provision would amend Chapter 5 of title II (8 U.S.C. 1255 et seq.) — basically, the current law regarding immigration. In other words, it would add this SEC. 2102 to current immigration law. Here is the text:
‘‘(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided under subparagraph (C), a registered provisional immigrant who is 16 years of age or older shall establish that he or she—
‘‘(i) meets the requirements set forth in section 312; or
‘‘(ii) is satisfactorily pursuing a course of study, pursuant to standards established by the Secretary of Education, in consulta- tion with the Secretary, to achieve an understanding of English and knowledge and understanding of the history and Government of the United States, as described in section 312(a).
The exceptions in subparagraph (C) referenced above include a mandatory exception for ” any person who is unable to comply with the requirements under that subparagraph because of a physical or de- velopmental disability or mental impairment” and a discretioanry exception for those who are “70 years of age or older on the date on which an application is filed for adjustment of status under this section.”
Where it says “described in section 312(a),” it is referring to the proficiency level required for citizenship in current immigration law.
Thanks for your very clear explanation and detailed location to where I can find this reference.
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