Advocates for adult education programs across New Hampshire are opposing a bill they say would hurt immigrants and refugees working toward citizenship.
The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, who said the roughly $4 million the state spends on adult workforce training programs should be reserved for people who can legally work in the United States.
“If our program is about teaching people how to do a job, shouldn’t those people who are taking those classes have the ability to work in America? Should they be legally able to work in our state?” he said.
Sanborn emphasized the restriction would apply only to workforce training and not all adult education programs, but the directors of several adult education centers said the two can’t be separated because workforce training is incorporated into other programs. Deanna Strand, director of the Dover Adult Learning Center, said verifying eligibility and separating funding streams would create an administrative burden that could result in decreased programming.
“The burden would outweigh the benefits,” she said.
Cathy Chesley, director of immigration legal services at Catholic Charities of New Hampshire, called the bill ill-informed and overly broad, saying it would discriminate against refugees and asylum seekers who aren’t legal permanent residents but are working toward that status.
“Language is the absolute hardest barrier … and here we are shooting ourselves in the foot with a bill like this that would keep people who are legitimately here and do not have their legal permanent residency yet from going to classes where they can learn English,” she said. “How silly is that?”
The committee also heard from Mary Ngwanda Georges, who came to the United States from Congo in 1990. Trained as a nurse in her home country, she worked as a dry cleaner while learning English and went on to get a master’s degree in organizational leadership. She now serves on the Manchester school board and runs a nonprofit group to help immigrant and refugee women and families.
“Without an education, nobody can do anything,” she said. “They need a way to education.”
The bill originally would have barred colleges and universities from providing state-funded financial aid to students who are not legal residents of the United States, but those provisions have been dropped.