Law Could Bring Different Mix of Immigrant Pupils
WASHINGTON--The approval by the Congress last month of the most comprehensive revision of U.S. policy on legal immigration in decades has left educators unsure about the bill's impact on schools, with some experts warning that certain districts could see a new mix of immigrant students they are ill-prepared to handle.
A White House spokesman last week said President Bush was expected to sign the measure, which substantially alters the breakdown of groups admitted and raises overall legal-immigration levels by 40 percent, from 500,000 to 700,000 visas annually.
Immigration experts interviewed last week estimated that children might account for up to one-third of the new entrants to the United States. The bill provides no additional funding for immigrant education, however, and leaves open to speculation the number of children who will be allowed entry, their specific nations of origin, and their likely level of educational attainment and English-speaking ability when they arrive.
Of particular concern to educators interviewed were provisions instituting "diversity" visas for citizens of European and African countries that have not been heavily represented in recent immigration waves.
One commonly cited scenario envisions an influx of significant numbers of Eastern Europeans to Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and a handful of other cities where they are likely to find assimilated, English-speaking relatives, but few school programs in place to deal with their language and other needs.
According to immigration experts, however, the impact of new pupils from groups currently underrepresented will likely be mitigated by the fact that many will be the well-educated offspring of highly skilled workers allowed easier entry under the legislation.
"What we are really talking about here is another layer to an ongoing situation," said Joan M. First, co-director of the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, an organization that seeks to improve immigrant access to schools.
"It is not anything new," she said, "but it will be new in some communities."
The overall impact of the new arrivals "will be minimal, if any," a spokesman for the Education Department predicted last week, noting that the numbers of additional legal immigrants will be relatively small compared with the numbers of refugees and illegal aliens already entering the country.
But several officials of school districts that have seen influxes of immigrants in the past were less sanguine.
Because of the tendency of immigrants to cluster in cities with other members of their ethnic or national groups, these officials cautioned, some urban districts could be overwhelmed by demands for new services.
The immigration bill "will have a direct effect on school districts and school-district resources," said James A. Connelly, superintendent of the Bridgeport, Conn., schools. Mr. Connelly is co-chairman of the New England Superintendents' Leadership Council, a consortium of administrators concerned with the education of language-minority students.
The Immigration Act of 1990, S 358, was adopted by the Senate on a voice vote Oct. 27 after the House passed it the day before, 264 to 118.
Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Alan K. Simpson, Republican of Wyoming, were the chief sponsors of the measure, which drew heavy backing from immigration-advocacy groups and business interests seeking to increase their pool of skilled workers.
The legislation increases the annual number of visas granted by the United States to 700,000 in 1991, then drops the allotments to a permanent level of 675,000 a year after three years.
Included in those totals is an increase in the number of "family preference" visas, from the current 216,000 to about 470,000 annually. These visas go to spouses, children, and other close relatives of immigrants already in the United States.
In addition, the law grants permanent residency to the spouses and children of former illegal aliens given amnesty under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
The category of "diversity" visas created by the new act is intended to promote ethnic diversity and attract aliens with desirable skills.
Beginning in fiscal year 1995, 55,000 such visas will be granted annually to applicants from countries previously disadvantaged by U.S. immigration law. Most of these visas are expected to go to applicants from Europe and from African countries such as Kenya, which is largely English-speaking, and Nigeria, which has English as its official language.
In the intervening years before the "diversity" visas take effect, 40,000 "transitional" visas will be made available each year to applicants from countries adversely affected by current U.S. policy.
Grants an 18-month stay of deportation to aliens from El Salvador now living illegally in the United States.
Treats Hong Kong, a British crown colony slated to revert to Chinese rule, as a separate foreign state, allotting 10,000 visas annually to its residents from 1991 until 1995, and 20,000 each year thereafter.
Increases to 140,000, from 54,000, the number of visas given to workers who are needed to fill U.S. jobs and have guaranteed employment in the United States. They would be allowed to bring their families.
Of these employment-related visas, 40,000 would be for workers with ''extraordinary abilities," such as managers and university professors; 40,000 for workers with high abilities and advanced degrees; 30,000 for skilled workers; and 10,000 each for the categories of unskilled workers, foreign investors, and "special" immigrants, such as ministers.
The totals under the bill do not include refugees, whose entry remains governed by the Refugee Act of 1980. A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said about 131,000 refugees are expected to be admitted during this fiscal year.
Experts on immigration differed widely in their assessments of where the new immigrants are likely to come from and how likely they are to arrive with limited-English-proficient children or to give birth here to children who will need extra help in English when they enter school.
Obstructing any attempt to predict immigration, they said, is the fact that patterns of migration are largely determined by the push and pull of unpredictable political and economic forces.
Even if federal authorities do know who will be coming to this country, the experts added, there is no way of knowing exactly where the newcomers will settle. Except in the case of Asian refugees who are processed through centers overseas, they pointed out, there is no federal mechanism to warn school districts of impending influxes of foreign-born students.
"Once people are here, it is viewed as a local problem," asserted James A. Fleming, associate superintendent for district and community services for the Dade County, Fla., district, which in the past decade has seen massive, unpredicted arrivals from Latin America as a result of poverty and political upheaval there.
Robert E. Warren, director of statistics for the INS, said his agency was not likely to know how many children will arrive from what countries under the new policy "until we have a year or two experience."
Predicted Allene G. Grognet, vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics and director of the organization's refuge-service center, "We are going to spend a couple years spinning our wheels."
Rafael Valdivieso, who tracks the immigration patterns of various ethnic groups as vice president for research at the Hispanic Policy Development Project, argued that immigration will continue to follow the patterns of the last decade, with legal and illegal entrants from Latin America and Asia accounting for the majority of new arrivals.
But a Senate Judiciary Committee aide who acts as immigration counsel to Senator Kennedy said the proportion of Latin Americans and Asians granted visas will drop from 85 perf the current total to 60 percent to 70 percent under the new bill, with Europeans and Africans accounting for the vast majority of the new entrants.
And Warren R. Leiden, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said, "I have an intuition that we will see a lot more immigration from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union."
"There is a dislocation now as they make the transition from the controlled economy to a free-market economy. Unemployment rates are growing," Mr. Leiden said. "That sets up a classic situation where many people seek a new horizon, a new frontier, and fill the United States.''
Several immigration experts suggested that entrants under the legislation's "diversity" and expanded worker categories would likely be young, single people or young married couples setting out on their own.
Mr. Warren of the INS cited 1989 statistics showing that every 10 recipients of visas for highly skilled workers were accompanied by 6 spouses and almost 6 children, while every 10 recipients of visas for lesser-skilled or unskilled workers were accompanied by almost 6 spouses and 9 children. Those rates of entry for family members "might not be very different" under the new measure, he speculated.
Several officials of ethnic and immigrant-advocacy groups that backed the new measure offered predictions that most of the immigrant workers will be well-educated English-speakers with small, academically prepared, English-speaking families. That suggests little cause for worry by school officials, they said.
But the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank frequently cited by organizations that opposed the immigration bill, has asserted that public primary and secondary education will be the largest cost associated with the measure. It cites estimates that the average immigrant or refugee in the current fiscal year will require the expenditure of $2,243 in public assistance and educational costs above the amounts normally spent on students.
"Of course we are not prepared" for the additional influx, contended Ms. Grognet of the Center for Applied Linguistics, a non-profit organization providing programs and materials to address language-related problems.
"We have little ability to deal in our school systems with large numbers of children coming from Eastern Europe and Africa and parts of Asia we haven't dealt with before," she said.
James J. Lyons, executive director of the National Association for Bilingual Education, said his organization includes some bilingual educators who teach in Eastern European languages, but said influxes from this region were likely to find U.S. schools with "not enough by a mile."
J. David Edwards, executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages, an advocacy group comprising 39 linguistic and international-exchange organizations, offered an even bleaker assessment.
"We have absolutely no capacity to deal with Eastern European kids in schools in terms of foreign-language and bilingual teachers," he said.
In the vast majority of school districts, Mr. Edwards said, the only educators equipped to serve Eastern Europeans not proficient in English are teachers of English as a second language. ESL teachers are already in short supply, he noted.
Moreover, Mr. Edwards said, there seems little hope that higher education would be able to generate nearly enough bilingual teachers to handle instruction in these languages. Citing 1986 figures that showed the nation's four-year colleges and universities to have enrolled a total of only 193 students of Czech, 132 of Hungarian, 918 of Polish, and 105 of Romanian, Mr. Edwards said most graduates of these programs have likely found jobs in business, and few, if any, have gone on to teaching.
Olga Valcourt-Schwartz, director of bilingual multicultural education for the Milwaukee school district, a likely destination of Poles and Germans, said her district already has shortages of bilingual and E.S.L. teachers and classroom space.
In addition to language barriers, several experts on language minorities said, students from the former Communist-bloc countries of Eastern Europe could face significant problems in adjusting to Western culture.
Ms. Grognet said her recent experiences working with Russian refugees indicate that many Eastern Europeans are likely to be motivated to the point of having unrealistic expectations. Such attitudes, she suggested, could make them resistant to taking bilingual and E.S.L. classes, because of a tendency to see students enrolled in such programs "as a social class beneath them."
While much of the discussion about the bill's potential effects centers on nationalities currently underrepresented in legal immigration, experts said some of the biggest beneficiaries were likely to be illegal aliens from El Salvador already living in the United States.
The measure, they said, will be a boon to Salvadorans willing to register with the government in order to be granted amnesty from deportation, and permits to work, for 18 months. The Congress has not yet determined what the legal status of these aliens will be after that period.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Forum, said many Salvadoran parents illegally in the country have been avoiding contact with schools for fear of deportation, but now will be more willing to provide schools with helpful information and to take part in parental-involvement programs.
Because these parents will now be eligible for legal employment, Mr. Sharry added, they also will be better able to send their children to school well fed.
Mr. Fleming of Dade County said the measure also may lead to the enrollment of significant numbers of children who have been kept away from schools. When his district sought out unenrolled alien children last month, he said, it located 800 Haitian and Central American children who had not registered one month into the school year, often because their parents feared being discovered and deported.
But, while making life easier for Salvadorans, the Immigration Act of 1990 makes no mention of amnesty for illegal aliens from Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, and other Latin American countries, many of whom claim they will be persecuted if sent home. For children of these groups, several immigration experts said last week, daily ventures into public schools will continue to be followed by a return to life underground.