Many Salvadorans in the District have given up trying to learn English, and officials who run classes for them cite a lack of hope for citizenship offered by the new immigration law as the reason for declining enrollment.
"Some people with the initial shock of the new law felt, 'What's the use, we are probably going to be deported and there is no hope in staying here, so why should we learn English if that is all that is going to happen?' " said the Rev. Mark Poletunow of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, one of the area's largest Salvadoran congregations.
Poletunow counsels Salvadorans at his church at 16th Street and Park Road, where English classes are offered.
The immigration law, which took effect June 1, offers undocumented workers amnesty if they can prove they have been in the country since Jan. 1, 1982.
Programs that offer instruction in English in the Columbia Heights, Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant areas have experienced declines since Congress passed the immigration law last fall.
Dennis Huffman, a language director of Casa Del Pueblo, a language center on Columbia Road, explained the decline in his program this way: "Salvadorans are increasingly obsessed with the very possibility of having to leave and having as much money as possible for that event."
The enrollment at the center consists primarily of Salvadorans. Summer classes there have experienced a 20 to 30 percent reduction in enrollment. And as a result of the decline, the center eliminated a middle-level instruction course this summer.
Other programs in heavily populated Hispanic communities have experienced similar declines in their enrollment. At Casa De La Esparanza, 3219 Mount Pleasant St. NW, the community center has experienced a 20 percent decline in all front-door visits including those relating to English-tutor programs.
"Most of them were people who realized that they needed English to get better jobs," said Ruth Sauder, director of Casa De La Esparanza. "It's mainly a thing of survival."
At the Sacred Heart Adult Education Center, officials have noticed a decline in enrollment over the last three semesters but do not attribute it directly to the new immigration law. In a classroom at the center Monday, basic words such as "blouse," "T-shirt," "dress," "pants" and "shoes" were rehearsed by newcomers who have been in the country for as little as six months.
"Learning English is good for getting work," said Miguel Angel Servellon, 35, a first-semester student. "A lot of times an employer won't give you work if you can't speak English."
Vivian Gorman, director of the Sacred Heart Adult Education Center, said she believes fear may be one reason that many Salvadorans do not attend her English classes. But she noted that the school's Salvadoran enrollment has almost doubled since last summer, indicating that the Salvadoran population has grownin the past year.
"Especially at first, people are afraid," Gorman said. She said people are particularly frightened that they may be reported to immigration officials if they attend classes.
"These poor people, how do they learn about the laws and to trust the country's regulations when they have been so hurt in their own country?" Gorman said.