Learning our language essential, overwhelming

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush riled many on the right wing of his Republican Party Sunday when he was quoted as saying that illegal immigrants should not be treated as common felons.


Addressing a crowd assembled to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the presidency of his father, George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush said:


“The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families – the dad who loved their children – was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family.”


In some people’s minds, such a statement is considered radical, anarchic, or even worse, liberal. In those minds, immigrants are lazy freeloaders who reap the benefits of the country at the expense of hard-working Americans.


In those minds, immigrants come here to collect welfare checks and clog hospital emergency rooms, to rob and steal and fly jetliners into skyscrapers. In those minds, illegal immigration is no “act of love”; it is high crime.


And in those minds, there’s little difference between legal immigrants and illegals. Their attitude: If they won’t speak English, send them home.


But the fact is that immigrants – regardless of how or why they have arrived here – really want to speak English.


Everyday life is enormously difficult for those who don’t know our language.


Imagine the plight of a mother who cannot understand the advice of a doctor concerning her sick child, cannot converse with that child’s teachers or even call for help in an emergency.


Imagine a Syrian who, while on a visit to the United States, learns his home, business and town have been destroyed, stranding him here where he cannot work or function in a strange land without the ability to communicate.


Being able to speak English is essential, but learning a new language can be overwhelmingly difficult. It requires time, practice, commitment and patience.


For many immigrants, the cost of lessons can be expensive, too.


The number of foreign speakers in this area has been growing in the past few years, and it should be a reason for pride that our area offers free English as a Second Language instruction through the Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania.


Immigrants from all over the world are learning English here in Washington County from the Literacy Council’s volunteer tutors. Students from Syria, Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Vietnam, Russia, China and Oman meet at Fairhill Manor Christian Church in Washington and at other locations for private and group instruction.


Some of them go on to study for U.S. citizenship, also with the help of Literacy Council tutors.


“They are the best students, they really have a desire to learn,” said tutor Kathy Ford.


The Literacy Council, of course, also helps native English speakers improve their reading and writing skills, without which life can be just as difficult.


You can call a gift of your time or your money to the Literacy Council a donation.


Or, you can call it an act of love.


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