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Globe Editorial

Immigration oasis

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June 30, 2008

IMMIGRATION POLICY stirs up angry debate, but among the islands of calm are English language classrooms where immigrants can learn the skills they need to engage in American life and be more effective workers. If only there were more of these islands.

To tap the power of communication, a group of civic, business, union, and nonprofit leaders gathered last week to launch the English Works Campaign. It's a promising statewide effort to make English classes more available to immigrants.

The need is great. There are some 14,000 names on a waiting list for state-funded English classes. A 2005 report from the nonprofit think tank MassINC called the ability to speak English the "new fault line," separating "those who succeed from those who struggle in the labor market." The report estimated that in 2000, 137,000 of the state's adult immigrants had poor English skills. They're part of a group of more than 467,000 immigrants who lack other knowledge-based economy skills. That's a challenge for cities such as Boston, Chelsea, and Lynn, where many immigrants live. And it's a problem for hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and other industries that hire immigrants.

Fortunately, solutions are at hand. Mayor Menino is broadcasting taped workplace English classes on Boston City TV and posting them on the city's website. State Secretary of Labor Suzanne Bump is marketing the existing Workforce Training Fund as a way to help pay for a range of training needs, including English and basic skills. The state should also increase the $30 million that flows through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for English and adult basic education classes.

The English Works Campaign is calling for more investments from businesses, and it wants to help organizations market their English classes to businesses.

With better English skills, immigrants could contribute even more to the state.

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