The 1986 amnesty also required some applicants to “learn English,” but in practice, attendance at a handful of classes was sufficient for the majority of them to meet this requirement. After the law’s passage, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) weakened the language requirements administratively, substantially reducing the number of people who had to meet the requirement.
The INS decided that illegal immigrants who were over 64 years old or under age 16 did not have to prove they could speak English, nor did illegal immigrants over age 50 who claimed to have been in the country for 20 years. Those with at least a high school diploma were also exempted.
The INS also decided that completing 40 hours of an English/civics program met the amnesty’s requirements. While it is unclear how the Obama administration would interpret the language requirements in the current Senate immigration bill (which include exemptions similar to those found in the 1986 amnesty), it is unlikely that any illegal immigrant will be denied amnesty for not knowing how to properly conjugate a verb.