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Immigration and 'New Industry'

May 13, 1987

A few people already know about the "New Industry" revolving around immigration laws, so cleverly described on the front page of The Times (May 6). We are some of the teachers of U.S. citizenship classes in adult public schools. This "industry," known as "providers," has been doing the same thing for legal residents applying to become citizens.

While thousands of people a month take the naturalization examination, most, not all, of the citizenship classes offered by the schools are small. So small, that within the last month, two have closed--not enough students. The rule for adult classes is no students, no money from the state. The teachers of these classes were knowledgeable and conscientious.

Usually, bilingual classes draw more. Anyone over 50 years old who has had a green card for 20 years may take the examination in his native language.

However, all other applicants for U.S. citizenship must display a minimal knowledge of English. The examination is given orally in English with a dictated written sentence. Is this language requirement for U.S. citizenship asking too much? I think not. Having questioned students from all over the world, I have not found another country as lenient as the United States in this aspect.

Most citizenship teachers are experienced in the ESL (English as a Second Language) method. We actually teach not one, but three subjects, history, government and English. Some of our students arrive illiterate in their own language.

Where does all this lead? First, don't blame this one on the schools. At least in L.A. Unified School District, under the leadership of a few farsighted administrators, we have been recruiting students, advertising and reopening classes in every adult school as well as preparing simplified lessons for the amnesty applicants.

But where are the students? At home, of course. Why, after a hard day's work, leave to take a bus, hassle the traffic to attend night school twice a week? "I can get a book, my friend has a list of questions, the test is easy, etc." When these all too familiar words are heard, teachers wonder at their time spent on lesson plans, including a nightly group discussion on lesson-related subjects--how have the amendments made the Constitution more democratic? What are the greatest problems facing the presidency today? At 9:15 p.m. the teacher knows it was all worthwhile. The students were thinking and talking in English, becoming informed citizens.



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