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Journal Article: Immigrants Learning English in a Time of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

I am pleased to share an article from volume one, issue one of the new ProLiteracy peer-reviewed, online research journal, Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy. This article is written by Clarena Larrotta, Texas State University.

Immigrants bring a wide variety of skills that favor market productivity and add to the economic life of the country. They contribute to the development of the U.S. economy through the skills they bring to the market (cognitive skills such as abstract thinking, non-cognitive skills such as motivation and initiative, and specific skills such as the ability to operate machinery) and through the small business they own. 

Despite being a significant force in the development of the economy and the contribution they make to the demographic diversification and cultural growth of the country, immigrants are currently not welcome in the United States. 

You can download the full article here. Please leave your questions in this discussion thread. 


Andrea Echelberger's picture

The impact of the current immigration policies and rhetoric on learners in English classes is something that we educators can't afford to ignore. I'm looking forward to hearing what programs and teachers are doing to support learners during this time. 

Victoria Rainis's picture

Dear Jennifer,

This article has helped me to respond in a more professional and appropriately defensive manner to negative comments from people who hate immigrants. Not only does it state factual information about the fear-mongering & demonizing of immigrants, but it focuses on the multiple benefits that immigrants bring/have contributed to the cultural, demographic, & economic make-up of the United States for decades. Often, I feel broadsided by comments aimed at criminalizing our immigrant community and I get tongue-tied as I try to respond but this article helps me to reply with more confidence. I truly appreciate that you shared this article and I have passed it on to my CSIU agency supervisor and colleagues. Thank you for the support!

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

Victoria, thank you for your comments. This, of course, is an ongoing problem but in the past six months or so it has become much worse. In my case, students stopped coming to classes because there was reason to feel afraid to be out at night - the raids. Thankfully I am able to send lessons on WhatsApp. But "live" classes are now almost impossible.

You mention the issue with negative comments. In general, of course, it does not matter at all what you say to some people. It is very frustrating to constantly hear people equate "illegals" with criminals, etc. I tell people that I know a lot of immigrants and they are all hard-working, honest people who are good members of the community. 

One thing that most people do not know is - exactly what does the immigration law say and what part of the law do  people "break"?  Basically the current  law is over 50 years old and it makes it almost impossible for a poor person to get a visa to come here to work, which is what 99% of them want to do. So they cross "illegally". 

In my opinion there are many reasons to change the law so that it makes sense, is just and serves the needs of our communities. But that is a political issue which probably can never be raised. I believe that the people who comprise the majority of this population have been living and working here for years, some for decades, and that they should be given visas in an amnesty style program. But I had to quit trying to find a way to promote the idea of reforming the law because nobody was interested.

I have decided to focus my attention on using WhatsApp as my "class", which is working well and I guess is necessary. Human interaction is always better but with the smart phone I can add new students without any strain. 

Thank you again and I hope that we can have a discussion here. 


David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Hello Paul, and others,

As you have often observed here, Paul, most immigrants now have smartphones. Among the many ways they use them is for face-to-face online videoconferencing with friends and family. I wonder if and, if so how, you -- or others here -- use videoconferencing applications such as Skype (free if used for video conferencing), Zoom (free for up to 40 minutes), Facetime (free), and other videoconference apps for one-on-one or small group English language instruction or listening and speaking practice. 

Blended learning, i.e. integration of in-person (face-to-face) and online learning may have a close cousin that is all online, where online independent learning is combined with online real-time virtual "face-to-face" interaction with a tutor or teacher. This would also be a kind of highly interactive distance learning.

I also wonder, Paul, if a combination of 1) ESL/ESOL HyperDoc lessons that can be personalized for each learner, 2) a once- or twice-a-week real-time videoconference-based class or tutorial, and 3) a supplemental ESL/ESOL app, such as one of the Adult Literacy XPRIZE apps for low-level adult learners, might be a good way to address some of the concerns you have raised about students' fears of attending face-to-face classes or tutorials.

David J. Rosen




Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

David, I use the smart phone WhatsApp Groups in order to send texts, videos and audios. Students send texts and also their own audios. I communicate this way daily and it sometimes gets very busy. This works out well because it is actually more convenient to send short messages, like Twitter (which I do not use). Nearly all my students work and have families so this seems to be the most convenient way.  

I intend to try video conferencing and HyperDocs, etc. soon actually.


Katrina DeVinci's picture

This was an intense course. The process of formative assessment can be challenging when teaching a combining group, and assessing progress towards goals attainment for the different levels of learners occupying the same space. The different strategies to providing constructive feedback are key take away for me.


Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

Jennifer - thank you very much for submitting this article. I have been teaching ESL to immigrants in the US for 20 years or so, and usually many of them have had no papers. My recent class was in a public library for two years but ended in June when attendance dropped primarily due to the raids taking place in the area (I am in southern California). 

A year ago I decided to do research on the immigration law with the intent of "lobbying" to make appropriate changes so that those people who are here "illegally" and who are hard-working and honest people could be given a visa in an amnesty style program. Unfortunately due to the political climate there is no way to promote a change like this. 

At the same time funding for ESL classes for beginners has been cut by the federal government. Basically, then, immigrants are becoming more and more marginalized. In my opinion this situation is disgraceful and harmful. 

Again, thank you for posting this article and I hope it generates interest. 

I look forward to further discussions. 

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

Jennifer,  I believe your post is very important and I had hoped  that there would be more disccussion and comments on it. The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment coincides with cutbacks in adult ESL. We need to do more education about immigration in general, I think.

To equate immigrants with criminals, etc., is an old trick going back a hundred years. I consider immigrants from Latin America to be wonderful people and I am glad that I know them. People often think of assimilation as a "one-way street", i.e. that immigrants are supposed to assimilate into "our" culture automatically. But first - "our" culture is made up of many cultures. Just look at music, art, food, dance and ....language!  Secondly - historically newly arrived adult immigrants rarely have automatically assimilated into the US. It used to be understood that the first generation probably would not learn English, for example, but their children would. 

Immigration has always been an important part of our history. Somehow we need to learn to appreciate immigrants more.