Rubio Amendment Dramatically Alters English Requirement for Undocumented Immigrants

(Updated below)

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; oris 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.

New Data Shows 3% Growth in the Number of Limited English Proficient (LEP) Individuals in the U.S. Over the Last 20 Years

The Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy just released new, national, state-, and county-level data on the number, share, and linguistic diversity of Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals in the United States.

According to MPI, 25.2 million individuals over the age of 5 in the United States (9% of the total population) have limited proficiency in English, compared with 14 million (6% of the total population) in 1990. Needles to say, this is good supporting data for those trying to make the case that more ESOL resources are needed for children, youth, and adults in the U.S.