I’ve noticed that headline writers and twitter commentators are in the habit of describing Sen. Rubio’s proposed amendment as “tightening” or “toughening” the English requirement in the immigration bill. Just to be clear: the current Senate bill already requires all non-English speaking undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. to learn English (with waivers for the disabled and the elderly, just as there are for citizenship). It is already tougher than the requirements for those applying for green cards under the current system, which does not require English proficiency.
What the current Senate bill does is recognize the fact that 70% of undocumented immigrants currently do not possess the English proficiency needed to meet citizenship-level proficiency, and that it can take hundreds of hours of instruction to attain that level of proficiency. Essentially, the Senate bill allows those individuals to move forward with an application for legal residency by demonstrating a commitment to learning English if they have not yet attained full proficiency.
Alexander Bolton, in an article about the amendment in The Hill, writes that Sen. Rubio’s amendment would strike language in the bill that allows the English proficiency requirement to be met “simply by signing up for a language course.” That is simply not the case. The bill requires individuals who lack sufficient proficiency in English to be “satisfactorily pursuing a course of study, pursuant to standards established by the Secretary of Education, in consultation with” the Secretary of Homeland Security. (my emphasis) That’s clearly more than just “signing up” for a course.
Reasonable people (i.e. not these guys) could debate whether there are ways to strengthen or clarify this provision—to better ensure that people are really learning, for example—but Sen. Rubio’s amendment simply lops it off. As I wrote yesterday, I think that is going to result in thousands of individuals deciding not to go forward with legalization, which is presumably not the Senator’s intent. Perhaps a compromise is possible that would address the Senator’s concerns without wiping out the provision altogether.
UPDATE 6/13/13: Excellent article from CLASP on the Rubio amendment here.