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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Yolanda Nacasio wants to learn English for many reasons. But one reason trumps them all: her kids.
She said recently she wants to learn English to "help with homework, for when I have an appointment for the doctor for her ... for when we go to the store." Nacasio has been taking English classes at Jackson Elementary School for about a month.
Offering immigrants more such opportunities to learn English helps them better support their families, according to a new report released by Voices for Utah Children.
The nonprofit advocacy group hopes the report will shed more light on Utah's immigrant families. For example, children born to immigrants made up about 16 percent of Utah's child population in 2007, and the vast majority of those children -- about 80 percent -- were U.S. citizens.
"There's a lot of misconceptions about the immigrant community," said Terry Haven, Kids Count director at Voices for Utah Children. "The reality is they look an awful lot like us, and, in some ways, their families are stronger than ours, if you look at the statistics."
According to the report, children in immigrant families were slightly more likely to live in a two-parent household than non-immigrant Utah families between 2005 and 2007, and slightly less likely to have five or more children in their families than non-immigrant families.
But the report, which is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, also shows that Utah children who live in immigrant families are less likely to have parents who graduated from high school and more than twice as likely to live in poverty as children born to non-immigrant parents.
Learning English, however, might be key to reversing some of those statistics, the report shows.
Children of immigrant parents who speak English aren't much more likely to live in poverty than children born into non-immigrant families. That's why the report recommends, among other things, that more opportunities to learn English be made available to immigrant parents.
Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah, agreed that teaching immigrants and their children English is key to not only their welfare but also to the state and nation's well being. But she said it can often be more difficult for many Utah immigrants, especially those coming from places such as Africa and east Asia, to learn English than it was for immigrants who arrived generations ago from European countries with languages more similar to English.
"We're in an information and knowledge-based economy, and so to get English language acquisition to these kids more rapidly is critical for the economic development potential of our state and nation," Perlich said. "We need to get resources to kids so they can accomplish in one generation what it maybe took our ancestors two or three generations to do."
She said about 8 percent of Utah's population now is foreign born, down from 18 percent in 1910. About 44 percent of Utah's foreign born-population is from Mexico, about 18 percent is from Asia, and about 11 percent is from Europe.
Bill Barton, who has worked with the anti-illegal immigration group Save Utah, said he also thinks it's important for immigrants to learn English, but he doesn't want to see taxpayer dollars fund such programs for illegal immigrants. A number of organizations, including schools and private nonprofit groups, now offer English classes to immigrants.
"The tax money is being paid by citizens ... there's a lot of tax supported services that are going to the illegals now," Barton said.
He also said he is not sure if some of the report's statistics, such as those about family structure, apply to illegal immigrants. The report did not differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants.
Haven said it's important the U.S. take care of children of all immigrant families. And that includes giving their parents opportunities to learn English so they are less likely to live in poverty, she said.
Sarah Little, coordinator of the English Skills Learning Center parent program attended by Nacasio and about 165 other adults, said parents mainly say they want to learn English to help their children, according to the program's surveys.
Eileen Meiners, a volunteer English teacher with the center, said one of her students, a Somali woman, even refused a translator when it came time for parent teacher conferences at her child's school this year. She wanted to do it herself, in English.
"She was proud of herself," Meiners said. "And we were proud of her."
A snapshot of Utah's immigrant families:
--11 percent of children in immigrant families live in a mother-only household compared to 13 percent of kids in non-immigrant families.
--In 32 percent of immigrant families, the mother works full-time compared with 26 percent of non-immigrant families.
--Children in immigrant families are less likely to be enrolled in preschool.
--57 percent of children in immigrant families have at least one parent who speaks fluent English, and 82 percent of the children speak English.
Source:" Voices for Utah Children, taken from data from U.S. Census American Community Survey from 2005-2007.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)