Tuesday, February 27, 2007


NYC Noted & Notorious

It's been a while since we looked in on local (non-comic) matters:

1) If one needs a reason for why immigration is the most under-addressed current public policy issue, this article on Mount Vernon, NY, should provide it:

As immigrants increasingly settle away from large urban centers — New York’s suburbs have had a net gain of 225,000 since 2000, compared with 44,000 in the city — many are waiting months or even years to get into government-financed English classes, which are often overcrowded and lack textbooks.

A survey last year by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials found that in 12 states, 60 percent of the free English programs had waiting lists, ranging from a few months in Colorado and Nevada to as long as two years in New Mexico and Massachusetts, where the statewide list has about 16,000 names.

The United States Department of Education counted 1.2 million adults enrolled in public English programs in 2005 — about 1 in 10 of the 10.3 million foreign-born residents 16 and older who speak English “less than very well,” or not at all, according to census figures from the same year. Federal money for such classes is matched at varying rates from state to state, leaving an uneven patchwork of programs that advocates say nowhere meets the need.

“We have a lot of folks who need these services and who go unserved,” said Claudia Merkel-Keller of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, noting that her state has waiting lists in every county, “from beginner all the way through proficient level.” New Jersey, like New York and many other states, does not keep statewide figures on how many people are on waiting lists.

Luis Sanchez, 47, a Peruvian truck driver for a beer distributor in New Brunswick, has been in this country 10 years — and on the waiting list for English classes in Perth Amboy five months. “You live from day to day, waiting to get the call that you can come to class,” Mr. Sanchez said in Spanish, explaining that he knew a little English but wanted to improve his writing skills so he could apply for better jobs. “I keep on waiting.”

Mr. Sanchez is unlikely to get the call soon: Perth Amboy’s Adult Education Center recently discovered that it was operating in the red and canceled 9 of its 11 evening classes in English as a second language, including all at beginner and intermediate levels. In Orange County, N.Y., where the immigrant population doubled in the past 16 years, the Board of Cooperative Education Services’ adult education program has stopped advertising for fear its already overflowing beginner classes will be overwhelmed.

Put aside the classic Times-ian assumption of a negligent level of "government-financed English classes": The sheer numbers and variety of immigrants -- and their languages -- that are coming into the United States is creating incredible pressures on budgets across the board. The article points out that the number of " foreign-born residents 18 years or older in 2005" jumped 18 percent in just the last five years, to about 32.6 million. It is safe to assume that only a small minority of that figure have English as their first language. When competition for education funding is tight, it is no wonder that immigrants bear the brunt of taxpayer hostility: At the elementary school level, immigrant children who haven't mastered English are seen as taking away scarce dollars that might otherwise be going into math, science or extra-curricular. At the adult level, non- or poor-English speaking immigrants are seen as taking away dollars from, say, continuing-education programs increasingly needed for middle age Americans fearful of job-loss.
Don't expect a prescription here. This is just an observation about the roots of middle-class anxiety and, often, outright hostility toward open immigration.

2) On a somewhat lighter topic, the New York City Council debates the "N-word" and prepares a resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of it. Because, like, you know there is a virtual epidemic of public figures using it in official events. Well, in truth there wasn't -- until yesterday's New York City Council hearing on the use of the "N"-word. Please.

3) Memo to anyone planning on having a meeting with Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York: Check your home -- he may be sending some goons over to padlock the place. Egan scheduled a meeting with Father Eugene Sawicki, pastor of Our Lady of Vilnius in lower Manhattan, which was one of several parishes recently ordered closed down. Sawicki and Vilnius parishoners have been protesting the closure.

Well, Sawicki went to the meeting thinking that he might get a fair hearing from Egan. PSYCHE! Egan sent security ("Absolute Security" is the firms' name, believe it or not) to padlock the Our Lady of Vilnius! This raises two interesting points: First, scheduling the meeting so you can lure a protesting priest out of "his" home and locking the place up may not be technically a lie (which is a sin), but it does seem like an action more befitting a hard-hearted landlord rather than the local head of a church. Second, one wonders -- during the high point of the church's child abuse scandal -- how many U.S. churches were ever shut down with the offending priests permanently locked out?

Just asking.

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