Queens students call on mayor to fund English classes

Queens students rally on the steps on Queens Borough Hall for English classes on Tiesday morning.
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Chanting “education is a right!” Queens students gathered Tuesday morning on the steps of Queens Borough Hall calling on the mayor to fund English classes.

The rally, led by the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, was focused on Bill de Blasio’s Fall 2018 Executive Budget. According to NYCCAL, a collection of nonprofit, community-based organizations, the budget will face a $12 million cut that will eliminate literary courses for over 5,500 students throughout the city, including 1,3000 in Queens alone. Without these resources, available at libraries and CUNY branches, many immigrants will not be able to qualify for better jobs, attend college or participate in their children’s education, NYCCAL spokesman Kevin Douglas said.

“We did this rally this morning to say ‘people are paying attention, it’s wrong, and it shouldn’t happen in a back-room deal,” Douglas said. “There needs to be public discussion about what it means to be a safe place for immigrants, not just a sanctuary city, but a place of opportunity. That’s what English classes are for. Once immigrants are here they want to move forward in their lives. They know they need their English diploma, and that opportunity could be taken away.AAccording to a City Hall spokesperson, the budget is is considering the need of certain literacy programs.

“The City currently provides immigrant communities with essential services,” a City Hall spokesman said in a statement. “Including adult literacy and English language learning programs. These programs cut across various city agencies, and take a variety of forms to best meet the different needs of New York’s adult learners. Additional need will be considered as part of the ongoing budget process.”

Douglas said the city budget must be approved by July 1, but he and his coalition are acting now because there are a lot of rumors that it will be passed the first week of June. Douglas said he has contacted the mayor’s office and has only been told that they are “looking at the issue.”

“The part that is most-mind boggling is that this mayor, in many ways, is a champion for immigrants,” Douglas said. “He’s been able to administer IDs, he’s limited cooperation with police, provided legal services. That’s all great, but what is the point of having immigrants here if you don’t give them a chance to succeed? Otherwise they will stay under the table and work low-wage jobs. Learning English is the first step. It’s inconsistent with everything else he’s done.”

Isabel Smith, a student at LaGuardia Community College, said she hopes the rally changes the mayor’s mind. She wants people to know that if given the opportunity, immigrants can contribute to the city.

“I need to learn to speak English to better my future in this country,” she said in Spanish. “I’m here because I think if we all unite we can change the mayor’s mind. We have hope, we hold on to hope. The mayor has always helped immigrants. We want to speak English to prove to white people, who want to hold us back so much, that we are just as good. We’re here to contribute, we just need a chance.

“It’s even more important now with President Trump. He wants to keep us down. We’re capable and he should know because he has so many Hispanic employees. We’re not going to take away, we’re going to contribute.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Posted 12:00 am, May 19, 2017
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Reader feedback

Waste of money from Queens says:
LEARN ENGLISH YOUR DAMN SELVES! why do taxpayers have to foot the bill for this garbage? My ancestors learned how to speak English themselves AND back then there was no internet to give you classes on it! All children before they come into the public school system should learn English and be given an exam in english but they should do this on their OWN PARENTS DIME not the taxpayers!
May 19, 2017, 5:42 am
Sam from Briarwood says:
The irony represented by the amount of spelling and grammar errors in this article is cringe worthy!
May 19, 2017, 10:52 am
Helton from Flushing says:
1) Waste of money is 100% correct. Well said.

2) Sam - I didn't realize all of the mistakes you mentioned until I reread the article carefully. Boy, you weren't kidding!
May 19, 2017, 12:17 pm
Nelson from Forest Hills says:
The writer of this article needs to take those English classes that she is writing about. There are at least 10 spelling and grammar errors.
This "Gina Martinez" must be an undocumented immigrant.
May 19, 2017, 12:29 pm
John from Long Island City says:
The real irony is that anti-immigrant groups are always complaining about immigrants supposedly refusing to speak English or to "act American". Well, the folks in this article are asking for the opportunity to learn English and they are doing it in the most American of ways by peacefully petitioning the mayor and city council! Half of Queens was born in another country and it's the most diverse county in the whole country so it makes perfect sense for immigrants to ask for their own tax money to be used for community services.
May 19, 2017, 3:31 pm
Clara from Bronx says:
Proper usage of the English language cannot be taught only from interactions with English-speakers in the streets, and the fact that there are classes offered to people who would like to improve their proficiency of the English language in order to positively contribute to the community and to society is a positive move in the right direction. I believe English classes are a necessity to help uplift our communities.
May 19, 2017, 4 pm
Educator from East New York says:
"Waste of Money from Queens" seems to be misinformed about ancestors learning English by themselves, or at least the timeline. Many Italian, Irish, German, etc. immigrant communities remained monolingual for generations.

Not all communities have valued assimilation as much as our current society.

Other communities (enslaved African folks) were kept from learning English, especially in written form. It seems shortsighted to look to the past for examples of "proper" immigrant behavior while ignoring the violence and racism tied to education in the US.

In the present, ESOL classes are one important part of the funding needed from the city budget. Adult literacy also includes high school equivalency (formerly known as GED) classes.

Whether we are talking about immigrants, young adults, formerly incarcerated people, or other adult learners, we know that recidivism and crime go down and children's' school performance and economies improve when adults have the skills and/or diploma that they need to succeed. If "Waste of Money from Queens" and others are concerned about costs, a small investment in adult education has a big return on investment.

In addition, immigrants pay billions in property, income, and sales tax in the US. So, "Waste of Money from Queens," I agree that immigrants could learn English on their own dime. They want to learn, and they pay taxes, and they are doing their civic duty to make sure the budget paid for by their tax dollars includes English classes.

After stating all of these justifications, I also find it important to note that education is a right and is used worldwide to measure global development. Adult literacy classes are crucial to thriving communities and a thriving city. As with other rights, individuals do not have to earn a right to an education or justify their claim to the right in monetary terms or any other terms.

For what it's worth, English is not the official language of the US, so it's also fine for those who don't want to learn to not partake!
May 19, 2017, 4:07 pm
Helton from Flushing says:

I totally agree with your statement that "English is not the official language of the US, so it's also fine for those who don't want to learn to not partake!

However, should those who choose not to partake be given the same privileges and benefits of those who do partake? Is that fair to those who invest their valuable time to do so?

Of course I'm talking about driving and voting - 2 of the most precious privileges an American can have.

The DMV written test for a learner's permit is given in 13 foreign languages (

Why is this allowed?

This is a safety issue since there are no street signs in NY in any other language than English, so why are the DMV tests bending over backwards to reward those who refuse to learn English?

This also endangers other drivers and pedestrians because if the non English reading/speaking driver can't understand English, his actions behind the wheel may kill an innocent person.

We all know about the many languages and translators in NYC voting booths on Election Day. Why is that? Only American citizens can legally vote in political elections.

Naturalized citizens have to pass an English comprehension test in order to become a citizen. If they've passed the comprehension test, then why are millions of tax $$ wasted every year printing all voting materials in so many languages other than English?

Simply stated - With rights come responsibilities. You want to vote and drive? Learn English.

If you don't want to learn English, that's fine with me - but then you shouldn't be allowed to vote and drive.

But in NYC, liberals still reward people who choose not to learn English with the same benefits as if they did learn English.

That makes no sense and that is why liberalism is a mental disorder.
May 19, 2017, 10 pm
Tom from Queens says:
White people will complain when immigrants don't know English than complain when they try to learn English.
June 2, 2017, 11:08 pm

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