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Massachusetts holds out a hand to immigrant workers

By Felicitas Baruch
On May 31, 2009

2/26/09Elsa Lopez came to the United States from El Salvador 19 years ago. Because she always had too much work and not enough money, she never learned how to speak English properly. She said her poor English undermined her confidence and kept her from having a normal life. Now Lopez, 39, is one of the more than 500 Massachusetts workers who receive free English classes through a campaign to help integrate immigrants into the Bay State culture.

"This has helped me so much," Lopez said, "not only at work, but also in my personal life. Even to talk to my kid's teacher at school". She started taking English classes twice a week five months ago at her own workplace. "My four kids were born here, they speak English, but I couldn't," Lopez said.

Lopez's story is only one of many in Massachusetts, where one in five workers is an immigrant, according to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the non-profit coalition that led the campaign.

In these difficult economic times, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino urged Massachusetts residents to break language barriers and integrate immigrant workers into the Commonwealth English speaking community.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino on Feb. 18 awarded 11 business executives, labor and community leaders who have committed to support their foreign-born workers by offering free on-site English classes as part of the English Work Campaign, a statewide initiative launched last June.
"They are helping," Menino said, "to build better communities by investing in the immigrant workers."

In Boston, 30 percent of the population is foreign-born, as is 35 percent of the city's workforce. And about seven in ten of those workers need access to English-language programs, said Eva Millona, executive director of MIRA Coalition.
"Through this recognition," Millona said, "we hope to encourage businesses and unions across the Commonwealth to join this campaign."

Menino also stressed the importance of having more employers adding to this effort to integrate immigrants into the larger community. "It is critical that business leaders understand the value of improving the English-language skills of their employees. It's not only the smart thing to do; it's also the right thing," the Boston mayor said.

James E. Rooney is executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center, one of the companies that takes part in the campaign. He said the initiative is positive not only for the workers, but also for the companies. "Our company also gets benefits of having workers who are able to communicate in English."

The companies that currently support this campaign belong to public and private sectors in areas as diverse as health, education and food industry.

Besides the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, other awardees were: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Brigham and Women's Hospital, the health and welfare fund Greater Boston Hotel Employees, Massachusetts General Hospital, PICCO Restaurant, Tufts Medical Center, Federal Management, John Nagel Company and Wainwright Bank & Trust Company.

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