By Gina Martinez
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 gmart