Should immigrants be required to pass an English test for US citizenship?


Fact Box

  • US citizenship is obtained legally in two ways: first, by being born to US citizens, and second, through the process of naturalization, which grants US citizenship to lawful permanent residents who follow the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) enacted by Congress since 1952.  
  • Naturalization includes the person seeking citizenship to have had a Permanent Residence (Green) Card for at least 5 years and renewing it before applying for US citizenship per INA guidelines. Permanent residents are permitted to live and work in the US but are legal citizens of another country. 
  • In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security reports 823,490 petitions were approved to grant US citizenship (or naturalization) to Permanent residents (Green Card holders). In 2018, that number was 750,771.
  • Gallup reported in 2013 that the majority of Americans (72%) found it essential that immigrants living in the US learned to speak English. But a 2021 Cato poll found that while English fluency was seen as “most important to assimilation,” only 53% say immigrants should speak English fluently.

Elliot (Yes)

Determining whether an individual can integrate well into a new culture and nation should be a key part of the immigration process. Dedicated individuals can become fluent in English in a matter of months. There is no excuse for people immigrating to any country without first making an effort to learn the new country's language. This doesn't mean an individual gives up their historical identity to learn English. Emigrating from one's country of origin to settle permanently into a new country is a significant commitment. Part of that commitment requires serious effort on the immigrant to adapt to the local language. 

Without a basic understanding of English, how can an individual form relationships, establish networks, and search for greater opportunities? If American society is serious about giving immigrants the best chance of success upon migrating to the states, we should also make sure they're set up for success without additional roadblocks, like language barriers. Perpetuated language alienation will only lead to higher government spending and government dependence. Expect an increase in the taxpayer burden as our education system struggles to teach young students English. If adult immigrants cannot speak English and cannot find work as a result, the government must house them and pay their bills. In Europe, there are ghettos filled with people who have nothing in common with their host nation. This is not diversity. This is how governments contribute to the failure of multiculturalism. Language cohesion and other forms of assimilation can only result in a net benefit for both the immigrant and the overall social fabric of America. There is no downside. 

Liza (No)

Immigrants shouldn't be required to pass an English test to become U.S. citizens. More than 20% of the U.S. population does not speak English at home, and they don't need English to work, run errands, and engage with loved ones. Immigration is often a difficult and expensive process, and immigrants shouldn't have to spend time and money learning English when they can survive without it. The U.S. is one of few countries that has one official language, while several countries around the world have many official languages and do not require their citizens to speak one designated language over another. Additionally, nations should encourage immigrants to retain elements of their cultures, including language, to increase diversity around the country. Requiring English tests would create a more homogeneous society, rather than celebrating various heritages. 

The question of whether immigrants are required to learn English appears to be coded with discriminatory, anti-immigration ideals. Knowing one specific language does not make any person more worthy of citizenship than another. Expecting immigrants to pass an English test proposes that languages spoken in an immigrant's home country are not as good as English, and that English is more worthy of a language to know. 

Lastly, English has never been the native language here. When the British colonized what is now the U.S., they overtook Native communities and imposed English on people who had, and continue to have, their own languages. Requiring immigrants to pass an English test for U.S. citizenship is a callback to colonization.

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