Immigration, the DREAM Act, and LCNV

August 22, 2012 at 11:27 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 2 Comments
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Marymount President Matthew Shank (left), Dominique Poirier (center), Staff Attorney at Just Neighbors, and LCNV Executive Director, Patti Donnelly (right),  at Marymount Reston’s Dream Act presentation. Photo courtesy of Marymount University Reston Center

Back in May, the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia co-hosted a presentation What the Dream Act Means for Immigrant Families,” with Just Neighbors at Marymount University’s NonProfit Center in Reston, Virginia. Dominique Poirier, Just Neighbors’ immigration attorney, gave a clear and thorough presentation about the federal and Virginia state proposals for the Dream Act, and how this issue influences the real lives of immigrants in our communities and the nonprofits who serve them.

This past June, I attended an informative training on the Obama Administration’s New “Deferred Action” Policy for DREAMers, which was organized by the following institutions: Hogar Immigrant Services – Catholic Charities; Legal Aid Justice Center – Immigrant Advocacy Program; Ayuda; Just Neighbors: Immigration Legal Services; Hispanics Against Child Abuse and Neglect (HACAN/STAR); and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO).

This is the first of a two-part blog LCNV will present in an effort to share the nuts and bolts of U.S. policy as it relates to undocumented immigrants, and describe the potential benefits and challenges of the Deferred Action Policy as it may relate to people in and around the Literacy Council’s community.

BACKGROUND on U.S. Immigration Policy: The Facts Defining Immigrants

Legally, there is no such person as an “illegal immigrant”. People in the U.S. can only fall into one of the following 3 legal terms: “U.S. Citizen”, “Lawful Permanent Resident” (Green Card holder), or “Alien”.  Any person whose presence in the U.S. is undocumented is “unlawfully present”, or an “unlawfully present Alien”. The term “undocumented” can be considered synonymous with unlawfully present.

An “unlawfully present Alien” may have entered the U.S. legally or illegally. Those who entered legally, with a time-bound visa, and remained in the U.S. after their visas expired are considered “overstays”. Such individuals may include tourists, students, diplomats, and nannies, among others. Those who entered the U.S. without inspection are considered to have “Entry without Inspection (EWI)”. Any person who has been in the U.S. “illegally” (overstay or EWI) for over a year and then leaves will be barred from returning to the U.S. for10 years.


The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act is the basic body of America’s immigration law, which prioritizes immigration and naturalization based on employable skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents.

The gross majority (68%) of Green Cards issued by the U.S. are for individuals who are sponsored by a family member who is a lawful permanent resident or citizen.  Only 13% of Green Cards that are issued are employment-based sponsorship.  Less than 20% of Green Cards that are issued are for individuals who fall within unique categories, including self-sponsorship, refugees, asylees, and abused minors.

A person’s sponsorship rights are defined by their status.

U.S. Citizens can petition for their immediate relatives to receive immigrant visas. “Immediate relatives” ONLY include: parents, spouses, and unmarried children who are under the age of 21. Generally, these petitions are processed relatively quickly (within 3-4 years).  U.S. Citizens can also petition for sons and daughters who are over the age of 21, although this process often entails a much longer wait. The wait to sponsor children over the age of 21 can last 7 to 20 years, depending on their marital status and country of origin. The process to sponsor siblings can take even longer – from 12-23 years.

Lawful Permanent Residents can petition for their spouses (a 3-5 year process) or their unmarried children (an 8-11+ year process), depending on their marital status and country of origin. Green Card Holders cannot petition for their parents or siblings.

Unlawfully present Aliens do not have any sponsorship rights. Overstays are the only group of unlawfully present Aliens who might be able to stay in the U.S. legally IF they have an immediate relative sponsoring them.


A brief history and description of the DREAM Act

Undocumented youth who grow up in America and often don’t know of a life anywhere else may graduate from high school and find themselves with no further opportunities. They cannot work or go to college, and especially since the events of 9-11, they cannot even get a driver’s license.*

In the past, the U.S. has granted amnesty to populations of undocumented aliens. The last full amnesty was issued by President Reagan, who granted any unlawfully present alien who has been continuously present in the U.S. since 1982 the right to self-petition for immigration status. Under the Clinton administration, a partial amnesty was issued, granting unlawfully present aliens the right to apply “if they had someone to petition for them” and paid a fine. In 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced and failed. Over the years, the DREAM Act has gone through various iterations, weakening and reducing the eligibility and rights for undocumented youth each time.

If the current iteration of the DREAM Act were to pass, unlawfully present individuals who meet the following qualifications may receive conditional (5 years) permanent residency. These criteria include:

–   “Good moral character”
–    Graduated from U.S. high schools
–    Arrived in the U.S. when they were a minor
–    Lived in the U.S. continuously for at least 5 years prior to the bill’s enactment

If, within that 5-year period, the qualifying individuals attend an institution of higher education or serve in the military, they may qualify for permanent residency and apply for a Green Card.

Current estimates suggest that undocumented alien minors make up about 11% of the unlawfully present aliens in the U.S. Of that total, only 2.1% are estimated to qualify for the conditional permanent residency status. Yet, this meager bill continues to fail in Congress.

Meanwhile, a “pro-immigrant” bill that has recently passed expands medicaid coverage to resident pregnant women (because their children will be U.S.-born citizens). More recently, on June 15th, 2012, in the midst of U.S.’ record high deportation rate, the Obama administration announced that the President would use his executive authority to grant “Deferred Action” status to the class of young adults and minors who would have likely benefitted from the DREAM Act. While this status is not a path to citizenship or permanent residency, it may provide a temporary respite from fear of deportation and education and work opportunities. The next post will elaborate on the details of this Deferred Action Policy.

In spite of these recent steps to improve the situation for undocumented youth in America, a long road lies ahead of our achieving a real DREAM Act!

What can you do to promote the DREAM Act in your neighborhood?

Get involved with local advocacy efforts, like the recent march in Maryland, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants, and Dreamactivist Virginia. It is particularly important to reach those members of Virginia’s Senate who are not already in support of the DREAM Act. Get the message to your representatives that it’s time for DREAMers to have the opportunity of citizenship in the country they already consider their own, despite missing a piece of paper.

*A 1982 Supreme Court Ruling (Plyler v. Doe) decided that children of undocumented aliens can attend public K-12 school, there is no federal law that either prohibits or promises post-secondary education for these children. However, two federal laws make it essentially impossible for undocumented youth to attend post-secondary education. These are the Higher Education Act of 1965, which requires applicants for federal financial aid be legal U.S. residents, and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which states that an unlawfully present alien is not eligible for state residency and is therefore not eligible for any post-secondary education benefit. Eleven states, including Maryland, have gotten around the IIRIRA by redefining “residency” and legalizing in-state tuition for undocumented youth.

Ruba Afzal, Director of Volunteers
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

LCNV Office Closed Today

August 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on LCNV Office Closed Today
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The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia’s office will be closed on Thursday, August 16, for a staff retreat. The office will reopen on Friday, August 17, at 9:00 AM.

Don’t forget to join LCNV’s staff, students, and volunteers at the Golden Reunion this August 26, 2012.

Check out LCNV’s new website:  

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year

August 10, 2012 at 2:51 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Setara Habib: My AmeriCorps Year
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I can’t believe today is my last day of my service year here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia. Overall, I have had much success and feel I have gained much from this experience. I have gained confidence in myself as a teacher and pride in the work I have done. I would really once again like to thank EVERYONE at the Literacy Council for being wonderful people and doing good work. I feel lucky to have been able to work with this organization for a year. As I move forward in my life, or rather South to Richmond, I can take with me all my new skills and experiences and the knowledge that I have spent one year of my life devoted to helping others. Teaching adult ESOL was such a rewarding experience. I can only hope that I find something equally as rewarding in the future. or maybe I’ll just come back some day.

Setara Habib
Americorps Instructor
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, Va 22042
(703)237-0866 ext 112

Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.

August 7, 2012 at 12:29 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Raymond Chow: Thoughts and Thanks.
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I am grateful to AmeriCorps and the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia for my exciting and rewarding year as an ESL teacher.  I have nothing but admiration and respect for the dedication and hard work of both the Literacy Council’s staff, volunteers, and students.  I have grown as an educator and as a member of my community through the work I’ve done here.

At the class graduations this summer I told my students that they were my family.  Specifically they were all my parents, only 40 years removed.  They came to America for the same reasons, the same aspirations – something better for themselves and for their children.  My parents were able to own their own house, their own small business, and put two children through college.  And I told them this not to brag about my parents’ successes but to confirm theirs.   All those great Frank Capra American dreams are possible.  I am proud of every one of my students.  I only hope they continue to gain knowledge and confidence as they continue to better themselves.

But if they are my parents then I am their son.  And in that I have to reflect on the question of whether I have been a good one.  I can only say that AmeriCorps has been a reaffirmation that I’m trying.  I want to help others.  I want to do good and take advantage of all the gifts I’ve been given so that I can give back to others.  To that end, when I take my leave of LCNV I will be going back to law school to become a better advocate (in some fashion) of this community.

Everyone at the Literacy Council has been both dedicated and kind.  Although I will not be able to teach in the coming year I have every intention of helping LCNV in its mission.  I sincerely thank the Literacy Council for helping me be a better person.

Raymond K. Chow
Americorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Chuch, Virginia 22042
(703)237-0866 ext. 118

Is My Student Dyslexic?

August 1, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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“I think my student has Dyslexia.”  This is one of the most frequently heard comments by new and seasoned tutors alike and deserves some attention to help tutors understand a little bit more about reading difficulties and to clarify the role of the tutor at LCNV.   First, the Literacy Council does not diagnose students with learning disabilities and LCNV tutors should not do so either, regardless of their background outside of their tutoring experience.  Dyslexia is a specific neurological disorder falling into the category of general learning disabilities and the term ‘learning disability’ carries numerous clinical, legal and financial implications that are beyond the scope of the Literacy Council.  A tutor’s role is to meet a student where he or she is in his or her reading and writing, and use the various tools available through the Literacy Council to address specific questions and concerns in order to help a student attain specific literacy-related goals

The term Dyslexia literally means word blindness and it was coined by a German ophthalmologist in the late 19th century.  Today it is generally accepted to refer to a severe impairment in the ability to read, which is generally thought to be due to neurological factors.  Nobody ever knows for certain what causes a person’s difficulty reading and writing, and regardless, reading difficulties are not intractable roadblocks to learning.  Treating difficulties empirically can make a big difference and it is essential that a student’s educational history (i.e. no education in a native language) be considered and kept in the forefront of a tutor’s mind.  Still, many tutors are surprised and frustrated by the types of errors their students make while learning to read and write.  Students may confuse similar-looking letters such as b and d, p and q or u and n.  Students may transpose sequences of letters, reading ‘was’ instead of ‘saw’.  It may seem as if a student is incapable of remembering ‘easy’ sight words such as ‘the’, ‘here’, or ‘of’.  Vowel sounds may seem particularly elusive to the adult learner.  All of these may, in fact, be symptoms of a specific learning disability.  Then again, all of these are almost always behaviors typical of new readers.

A new learner, which characterizes all LCNV students, will make errors and learning to read is no small task.  Below are a few common errors that new readers and writers make, and some tips that can help tutors address them.

  • Keep Errors in Perspective – When students make any word reading errors, note them but try not to worry about them more than necessary.  Reading accurately is important but if a word reading error doesn’t interfere with a student’s comprehension then a student may be making some self-correction internally already.
  • Comprehension Check-Up – We can’t always count on a student’s errors not to interfere with comprehension so it is important to be sure that they understand that they have made an error and to be sure that they can paraphrase or summarize the main points of what they have read.
  • Mnemonics – If a student is having trouble discriminating (visually or auditory) between specific letters and/or sounds, teach some memory tricks such as writing the word ‘bed’ to discriminate between b and d, teaching keywords to help recall the correct sounds, or using pictures to cue the correct sound.
  • Discrimination Activities – Create a stack of index cards with the two sounds that are difficult for your student to distinguish, such as short e and i.  Spend the first five minutes of the lesson reading the words aloud to your student and sorting them into piles.
  • Teach Syllables – Blending individual sounds in words is difficult for almost every beginning reader.  Students need to know individual sounds of words but some people chunk different pieces of information together differently, and for some learners separating words into individual sounds is too many pieces of information to hold in memory at once.  Numerous studies demonstrate that people with reading difficulties have weaker phonemic awareness and phonemic memory than people without reading difficulties.  This means they don’t automatically see or hear similarities and differences between words and sounds so these need to be taught directly; the smaller the unit, the harder it is to discriminate and remember.  Giving a larger chunk or a regularly used analogy can be very helpful.  Be prepared to teach things slowly and be sure to incorporate plenty of practice – a weaker phonemic memory means it is harder for a person with reading difficulties to store phonemic (sound) information so they will need continued, intensive practice.
  • Context – Teach your learner to use context while reading.  Adult learners have many coping skills and context can be a lifeline for such a new reader.  Many new and struggling readers come to see reading as a performance and forget that the goal of reading is understanding text, which requires active engagement with text.  Have your student repeat the word they misread and ask, “Does that make sense?”  Give your student a second chance to reread. It is also helpful if you can record the reader and have him/her listen to his/her own reading.  Students need to learn to monitor their own understanding by continuously asking, “Does that make sense?”
  • Appropriate Reading Level – Any time you notice students making many errors, be sure that the level is appropriate.  If a student is struggling with something, you will often notice that skills you thought were secure are now falling apart in application. This is because the learner is attending to too many things at once.  Try the following: shorten the passage length; give the learner a chance to preview the material before reading; or be sure you are reminding the learner of only one or two things to focus on while they read instead of trying to correct all aspects of reading at once.  If none of these suggestions work, simply find easier material.

The Literacy Council trains volunteers to work with beginning readers and writers.  We define a beginning reader as someone reading below a fifth grade level, or someone who is unable to read and understand an English newspaper independently.  When a student with such limited literacy skills is faced with the task of learning to read, confusion is part of the landscape.  Nobody expects tutors to be reading specialists and the initial training provided to all new tutors should only be considered a jumping off point.  If you are struggling to meet your student’s learning needs, do not suffer in silence – reach out to Placement Advisors, staff, and fellow volunteers.  Each learner presents unique challenges and strengths, and an outside observer can provide surprising insight, advice, and peace of mind.

Molly Chilton
Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 104

Jessica Raines: My AmeriCorps Year

July 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | Comments Off on Jessica Raines: My AmeriCorps Year
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I came to the Literacy Council with practically no teaching experience. My background is in psychology and political science, but I wanted to try something new. I did not really know what to expect from this upcoming year of teaching, but I knew it would be hard and rewarding.

The first semester, my fellow AmeriCorps members and I hit the ground running. I had to learn to teach through trial and error. Quickly, I discovered that teaching is not an easy task. Often, there are so many available resources that you can feel like you are drowning in textbooks, websites, and advice. Plus, actually being responsible for someone else’s learning felt incredibly overwhelming. Part of me expected teaching to come naturally, but I found myself spending substantial amounts of time lesson planning and feeling incredibly nervous before each class.

Teaching is an art AND science; skill and practice are required if you want to hone your craft. As time went on, I became more comfortable with it.  I took advantage of trainings, sifted through resources and articles, and practiced five times a week in front of my own class. Eventually, lesson planning and teaching became easier.  I also stopped stressing about being responsible for someone’s education and focused on enjoying my time with my students; as the saying goes “showing up is half the battle.” Students are ecstatic that someone is willing to take time out of her day to show up to class with a smile on her face and talk to them. I really enjoyed conversing with my students, even though it was extremely difficult at times given their limited language skills. While working with my students to accomplish their goals,  I learned about their lives and cultures, and this was incredibly rewarding – more rewarding than words can express.

Jessica Raines
AmeriCorps Member
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866 x 104

Supporting LCNV: BeanTree’s Love of Literacy

July 25, 2012 at 1:24 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Uncategorized, Volunteers | Comments Off on Supporting LCNV: BeanTree’s Love of Literacy
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This past spring, Carisa Pineda and Serife Turkol attended the 7th Annual BeanTree Learning Family Picnic at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg. More than 400 new books were donated by families of students attending BeanTree Learning as part of the school’s 4th Annual “Love of Literacy” Campaign to benefit families served by the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia,  and the Loudoun Literacy Council. The 200 books received by the Literacy Council are very high quality titles that included many board books which are often expensive for our program to purchase. The Family Learning Program will give these books away to the families we serve.

This is the second time the Literacy Council has received such a generous donation from BeanTree. Many thanks are due the BeanTree families who provided the books and a special thanks to Jennifer Bower, the owner of BeanTree, as well as Tracy Gilliam for coordinating the donation.

Founded in 2003, BeanTree Learning is a privately owned and operated Creative Campus for Children developed by Jennifer Bower.




Carisa Coburn Pineda
Family Learning Specialist
Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866

My First Tutoring Session

May 15, 2012 at 12:12 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Student Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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By. Lisbeth Goldberg

There was an announcement by the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia regarding their next volunteer tutor training for ESOL; it’s a structured training program on three consecutive Saturdays, and they assign you a specific student.

I immediately phoned and signed up because I’d been wasting my Saturdays, and I always liked training classes. The three Saturdays were really excellent, with about 35 people in the class. I was assigned an Ethiopian lady who’d completed eight years of school in her home country. She knew a few English words and some of the letters, but couldn’t write her name in English and could not converse in English.

Yesterday, at 4:00 pm, I met with my student, and two of her daughters at an Alexandria Branch Library. The eldest daughter is a college student. Her sister is a senior in high school, and there is another sister who is a junior in high school. The girls were delightful, with an easy laugh. Mom had a solemn face, and she just looked down and sighed. The girls were doing all the talking.

The Literacy Council sends you off to your first meeting well prepared.  There are three flyers on a) what to do in your first session; b ) needs assessment and goal setting, and c) a form to be signed by the student, an agreement to study and practice. The eldest daughter read the student agreement to her mom. When they got to the sentence, “Promise to do my homework,” the girls started giggling and laughing at the idea of Mother doing homework.  When the daughters got to the statement, “If the student doesn’t do her homework, the teacher might not teach her anymore,” they couldn’t stop laughing. Mom remained rather somber, sighing, and with no eye contact.

Then we began the lesson introducing ourselves by name. I asked the student how I should pronounce her name, and practiced it several times. She listened and practiced pronouncing my name. We did lots of repeats. Needless to say, Amharic and English have very different sounds to some letters and vowels. When Mom got it right, I gave a big smile and clapped my hands — very good. She clapped back and looked me in the eye, even smiled.  I had explained to her, she may be a beginning student, but I was certainly a beginning teacher.

I was about to give her a homework assignment, to practice copying her name in English and then write it next class, but she was a step ahead of me. [She] told her daughter to tell me she would practice for next class, and proudly said my name with a big smile.

After the first meeting, the class is one-on-one. But the eldest daughter said that her mom really needed help, so the three daughters will rotate accompanying Mom to class. I’m extra lucky. I have these beautiful, enthusiastic daughters to work with me and to help their Mother learn English. They each thanked me with a handshake, a smile, and a bow on their way out.

I was on a high; it was the best of times!

Please consider becoming a Volunteer Tutor like Lisbeth. Visit Tutoring or email 

Literacy Council of Northern Virginia
2855 Annandale Road
Falls Church, VA 22042
(703) 237-0866

Chef José Andrés Celebrates Literacy with LCNV

April 24, 2012 at 1:04 PM | Posted in AmeriCorps, Announcements, Class, Development, ESOL, Family Learning, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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Chef Jose Andrés is featured in Time magazine. Photo by Peter Hapak

The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is celebrating its 50th year in a really big way! We’ve planned three events: The Golden Reunion (July 1, 2012); One for the Books (October 3, 2012); and Literacy Means Business (April 2012).

Celebrity Chef José Andrés will be a special guest at our gala event, One for the Books! One for the Books will be hosted at the Masonic Temple in Alexandria. Special guests also include award-winning author David Baldacci, and prominent financier Ric Edelman. Robert Egger, President of D.C. Central Kitchen, will be serving as Master of Ceremonies, highlighting the importance of literacy in all aspects of life.

Recently, Chef Jose Andrés was featured in Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the World. In addition to being a phenomenal chef, Andrés is an advocate and fundraiser for D.C. Central Kitchen, whose Fresh Start Catering will be catering One for the Books. Take a moment to read the feature and find out why Andrés is so influential and inspiring.

Mark your Calendars. One for the Books takes place on October 3rd of this year, but LCNV will be hosting its Golden Reunion this July 1st, at the Ernst Community Cultural Center in Annandale. See old and new LCNV faces. Hear from LCNV volunteers and students, whose stories will inspire you. For more information: 703-237-0866 or

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