Learning to read and speak English is essential to acclimating to life in this country, according to elected officials and immigrant advocates who protested against proposed cuts that would eliminate such free language programming as well as legal services, at a press conference Tuesday at the South Queens Boys & Girls Club in Richmond Hill.
The club holds such classes for the growing immigrant community in the area.
In his executive budget, the mayor has proposed eliminating funding to the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative and adult literacy programming, which would affect about 75 different organizations citywide. Since it was launched in 2001, the IOI has been threatened each fiscal year by budget cuts.
“It’s critical especially for a community like ours, which is 68 percent immigrants,” said Alex Flores, a spokesman for City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “The money allocated for these services is just a drop in the bucket compared to the mayor’s entire executive budget.”
Last year, the City Council was able to replace $4 million of the $4.5 million originally allotted for the program. And lawmakers like Councilmembers Dromm, Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) are hoping to do that again.
“We need to ensure that they are given the opportunities and the resources necessary to become fully integrated in our society and to pursue the American dream,” Dromm, who is chairman of the council’s Committee on Immigration, said in a prepared statement. “IOI and adult literacy funding have to be top priorities and current levels of funding must be preserved.”
Wills said it is “imperative” that the IOI initiative continue and that access to English as a Second Language programs become more easily accessible, especially in New York City, which he said, is home to a large, vibrant and growing immigrant community.
“When immigrants learn the English language, they become more active members of their communities,” said KC Williams, director of adult education at Queens Community House. “They become more involved in their children’s education. They get better jobs, and contribute more to the tax base.”