Immigration Issues Resurface on Ballots

Julia Silverman, AP, September 7, 2008

In a high school classroom, Xavier Chavez is trying to teach a group of restless teenagers about Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century belief that the United States was divinely fated to stretch from sea to shining sea.

But these students are children of immigrants, and they first have to learn English. They might soon have to learn it faster if Oregon voters approve a ballot measure in November to limit the amount of time students can spend in English-as-a-second language classes.

The proposal, modeled after similar laws in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts, is one of a handful of immigration-related ballot measures that will appear this fall on state and local ballots across the nation.

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A year ago, groups that wanted to crack down on illegal immigration had hoped to push the topic front and center in the presidential campaign.

But the once-explosive issue has simmered down nationally, particularly since both major presidential candidates have endorsed a “path to citizenship” for the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

Now the immigration battles in November will be fought on ballots in Oregon, Missouri, and California.

There are 64,000 non-English speakers enrolled in Oregon’s public schools, the vast majority of whom are Spanish speakers. The proposal would limit high school students to two years of ESL classes, even less for younger students.

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Faculty members worry instead about academic English—the skills that will let students succeed in advanced classes, whether they are deconstructing “Beowulf” or reciting the principles of photosynthesis.

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