English & Immigration


“The Inspection Room,” Ellis Island, New York, between 1910 and 1920.

Visit our page, English Requirements for Naturalization in the United States, for a full explanation of the current citizenship testing standards for English and Civics.


ProEnglish believes English should be the official language of the United States. We believe that this mission is vital to the preservation of our national unity and the strength of our democracy. To ensure our linguistic unity and to promote the successful assimilation of new immigrants, the United States has long required that newcomers to the U.S. learn English in order to naturalize, i.e. become citizens.

To what extent do immigrants hoping to become U.S. citizens have to demonstrate English proficiency? Does ProEnglish have a stance on current requirements and on whether lawfully present immigrants should meet some form of English requirements?

Currently, prospective immigrants are not required to demonstrate English proficiency when they apply for visas or for green cards.  Of course, those on student visas usually will have to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) in order to be admitted to American universities and colleges.

While it makes sense to have higher standards for citizenship, ProEnglish does favor implementing an English proficiency requirement for legal immigration.  We also support making the English test for naturalization more rigorous, as it really is not the most accurate measure of proficiency.  For example, for the reading portion of the naturalization test, you only have to show your interview officer that you can read one out of every three sentences correctly. For the writing test, you must also write one out of three sentences correctly. Being right a third of the time represents a limited understanding of the English language. It certainly is not English proficient.

Adding an English proficiency requirement for legal immigration will help to ensure that the costly burden of providing and paying for foreign language translation services will not be imposed on U.S. taxpayers.  It also will help immigrants understand what their new community expects of them.  Great Britain, France, and Germany are among the European countries that recently moved toward requiring proficiency in their nation’s primary language as a condition for legal immigrant status.

Visit our page, English Requirements for Naturalization in the United States, for a full explanation of the current citizenship testing standards for English and Civics.


Today, misguided public officials sometimes conduct naturalization ceremonies in languages other than English. This undermines the English requirement for citizenship and sends a false message that new immigrants do not need to know English in order to participate fully in American public life. Ill-considered amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have further diminished the need for English by mandating the printing of ballots and voting materials in other languages whenever certain thresholds are met. ProEnglish believes that this trend of officially accommodating foreign languages for the acquisition and exercise of American citizenship is both divisive and dangerous.

ProEnglish supports legislation to require naturalization ceremonies to be conducted exclusively in English and to abolish all requirements to provide ballot and voting materials in other languages.


ProEnglish strongly opposes blanket amnesty because it would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants without specific steps requiring them to learn English. Giving legal status to millions of non-English speaking illegal aliens would dramatically expand demands for government services in foreign languages and further erode English’s critical role as our unifying national language.

Amnesty without English also fosters linguistic isolation and cripples the upward mobility of non-English speaking immigrants. In their 2013 study, “Living and Working in Ethnic Enclaves: English Language Proficiency of Immigrants in U.S. Metropolitan Areas,” Purdue University researchers found that residing and working in ethnic enclaves made it easier for immigrants to continue speaking their native language and put off–or avoid altogether–learning English. The study cited Census data indicating that while 32 percent of the U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010 came from immigration, the proportion of English-speaking immigrants has declined from 85 percent in 1900 to 71 percent in 2010.  They attributed this decline to the lack of any English proficiency requirement for new immigrants, where one researcher commented, “Other countries often take a much more active role in ensuring that immigrants can speak the native language.”

The U.S. government has been failing horribly at encouraging English language learning among immigrants for at least the past two decades.  According to 2011 Census statistics, non-English speaking in the home has tripled since 1981.  Failing to know English hurts immigrants’ ability to integrate into American life and all but cuts off their chances of pursuing the American Dream.  As Purdue researcher Brigitte Waldorf so aptly stated, “Learning English does not mean you forget your culture or your own language. You can keep your own culture and still be American. It’s not one or the other.”

At a time with soaring national deficits and rising unemployment, the Congress and the White House should not be increasing the financial burden on American citizens by forcing them to subsidize costly government-mandated multilingual services.  Sadly, President Clinton’sExecutive Order 13166 which mandates all federal fund recipients to provide multilingual services in an unlimited number of languages is still in effect today. Giving legal status to 11 million or more illegal immigrants with this Executive Order still in place would be disastrous for our already struggling economy, our national identity, and our common language.


ProEnglish opposes DREAM Act amnesty (amnesty for minors) because it would effectively legalize approximately 2 million illegal aliens under the age of 35 without specific steps requiring them to attain English proficiency.

DREAM Act amnesty would:

  • Award legal status and a “path to citizenship” to all illegal aliens living in the U.S. who entered the U.S. before they were 16 years of age, and who have earned a high school diploma or a General Educational Development certificate (GED).
  • Allow states to give reduced in-state tuition at state-supported colleges and universities to illegal aliens by repealing the federal law that now prohibits them from receiving in-state tuition.
  • Give illegal aliens access to federal student loans and work-study programs that they are currently ineligible to receive.
  • Require amnestied aliens to complete two years of college or military service during their first six years of legal residence, but DHS can waive the requirement or grant additional time to comply for those who do not.
  • Allow amnestied aliens to apply for citizenship and petition to bring their extended relatives, including their parents who brought them here illegally, to the U.S. after six years.

Millions of English learners have participated in public elementary and secondary education in the U.S. without acquiring proficiency in English. A 2009 report by The Lexington Institute found that 59% of U.S. elementary school children who are LEP (limited English proficient) were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. For example, in New Jersey, two-thirds of the state’s English Language Learners rely on the foreign language alternative assessment to meet state high school graduation standards (source).  DREAM Act amnesty would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in multilingual services and translations.


“A community of broken English is no community at all.”

Eric Pickles, British Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, 2013