New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Signs Law Exempting Taxi Drivers from Speaking English

Published on August 26th, 2016

Effective August 16, prospective New York City cab drivers will no longer have to pass an English language proficiency test to get their license to operate a cab.

Passengers in New York’s taxis have long questioned the English conversational skills of their drivers. English-language-challenged drivers are especially plentiful in Queens which boasts of being one of the “most diverse places on Earth.”

For NYC cabbies, no English, no problem.

Doubtless, the City Council which introduced the bill that eliminated mandatory English language and Mayor Bill de Blasio who signed it thought lowering the job’s standard did immigrants a favor. Instead, giving immigrants a pass on learning English dooms them to a half-life in the United States, working at minimum wage jobs.

When I taught English as a Second Language in the San Joaquin Valley, here’s what I told my students to encourage them: Yes, you can live in the U.S. without learning English. But most of you will spend many more years in the U.S. than you ever lived in your native country. Not knowing English will keep you from enjoying America to the fullest, and force you to rely on translators, always awkward and, in dangerous situations, potentially risky. Too frequently, you won’t be able to talk to your doctors, your children’s teachers, interact with the other parents or mingle outside of your enclave.

Away from the classroom, I reminded them that learning opportunities are as close as the television and radio. Then, I told them Academy Award winner Billy Wilder’s story. When he came to the U.S. in 1933, Wilder was penniless and spoke no English. Every night he lay in his bed, listened to the radio and learned 20 new English words. As Wilder told World War II historian Richard E. Osborne, “Most of the refugees had a secret hope that Hitler would be defeated, and they could go back home. I never had that hope. This is home. I had a clear-cut vision this is where I am going to die.”

Immigrants who come to America to find a better life must, like Wilder, include English mastery as one of their primary goals.

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