By Joe Guzzardi
October 8, 2014
Two recently published Center for Immigration Studies reports give an insightful snapshot of today’s America and its growing immigration component. The first study found that in 2013 the immigrant population hit a record high 41.3 million and the second that more than 61 million households speak a foreign language to converse among themselves. The language analysis reflects the consequences of ever-increasing immigration into the United States. Both the total immigrant population and the corresponding numbers of non-English speakers have increased steadily and at non-sustainable levels for decades.
As a California native who grew up when the state’s population was 7 million, I’m troubled that Congress has, apparently without a thought to the long-term, sanctioned immigration policies that have contributed to the state’s doubled population from 20 million to nearly 40 million in the last forty years. Because of overpopulation, California has experienced more pollution, more environmental degradation, more traffic, overcrowded schools, higher taxes and longer waits at emergency rooms.
Commenting now as a retired English as a Second Language teacher who spent more than 25 years in the state’s public school system, the report on the dramatic increase in non-English speaking also bothers me. The Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey (ACS) compiled 2013 data which showed that about 20 percent of immigrant households communicate in their native tongues and that the total has increased by 2.2 million since 2010. Non-English speakers in America have risen by nearly 32 percent (15 million) since 2000 and by 94 percent (30 million) since 1990. The biggest increases came among Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and Urdu speakers.
When parents don’t speak English, too often their children don’t, either. The same 20 percent of non-English speakers are found among school-age children with a significantly higher level in immigrant-heavy states like California (44 percent), Texas, Nevada and New York, all at 33 percent. Those children will struggle in school, will be at a disadvantage in everyday situations, and most important, will assimilate slowly.
The fallout from limited English has been felt for years and is poised to become more problematic. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, students speak more than more than 90 languages. And this summer’s Central American surge led to the enrollment of thousands, some of whom have never been inside a classroom, who speak Mayan or other indigenous dialects. Their teachers face profound difficulties in trying to teach them.
One lesson that I tried to convey to my students is that while it’s possible for them to live in the U. S. without learning English, their lives would be limited and their prospects for securing a meaningful job at a good salary nominal.
I liked to tell them the story of famous Hollywood director Billy Wilder. My students had never heard of Wilder but I wanted to impress upon them how he came to fame and fortune. When the Austrian-born Wilder arrived in Hollywood in the late 1930s, his fellow expatriates invited him to join them at the local coffee shops where they reminisced in German about the old country. But Wilder knew that he would never return to Austria and wanted instead to master English. So he stayed in his hotel room, listened to and learned English from radio broadcasts. Eventually, Wilder received 21 Academy Award nominations and won six Oscars.
About one million legal immigrants arrive each year and will continuously add to the current 41.3 million. Only a small percentage will ever go back. Learning English must be the first step each immigrant should take if they expect to enjoy fulfilling American lives.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been nationally syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]