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English classes bulging with immigrants

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The Evans Community Adult School in downtown Los Angeles is a veritable language factory. It teaches English to more than 7,000 students a day in five shifts, from 7:55 a.m. to 9 p.m. Even so, the school still has to turn away as many as 450 people a month who want to enroll in the courses.

``We have an awful lot of people out there interested in learning to speak English,'' says Sarina Arakawa, the school's assistant principal.

English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes for adults are bulging in many major cities across the country - a result of the flood of immigrants to the United States, particularly from Asia and Latin America.

Now educators are bracing for a new wave of applicants as a result of the enactment last November of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

A little-known feature of the measure requires that illegal aliens seeking legal residency must have a ``minimal understanding'' of English before the status will be granted. The requirement is causing fresh concern in the alien community, putting new strains on language resources, and prompting concern among immigrant-rights groups that some aliens may fail to qualify for legal residency because of the shortage of classroom space.

But the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) does not expect such a significant impact.

``I don't think there is any expectation that people will have trouble meeting [the English] requirement,'' says Rick Kenney, a member of the INS staff in Washington.

The INS estimates that some 4 million illegal immigrants will apply for legal status. Agency officials doubt that many of these will need to study English to qualify. With few exceptions, the law offers citizenship only to aliens who have lived continuously in the US since before 1982. It is felt that most will have picked up enough English to pass.

Although the new law provides $1 billion to reimburse states for money spent on social services to implement the measure, most of it is expected to go for things other than English instruction. Even if the number of people needing tutoring is not substantial, say people involved in providing the English classes, any addition to the ESL rolls will further strain the language-instruction system.

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