You’ve probably heard this before, but America is a nation of immigrants. Our strength and dynamism comes from our openness to newcomers. Yet, at the federal level, there is no focus on helping immigrants integrate quickly into our society.

Title II, Subtitle E of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act begins to take us in the direction of having a purposeful and coordinated immigrant integration policy. The legislation creates an Office of Citizenship and New Americans by expanding the role of the current Office of Citizenship within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The office will be charged with coordinating immigrant integration programs across the federal government, and it will provide advice and assistance to state and local entities grappling with the integration of New Americans.

The legislation provides for, in the first two years after enactment, a Task Force on New Americans, chaired by the Secretary of Homeland Security. This task force, composed of high-level officials of several federal agencies, will be charged with developing a coordinated  federal approach to issues that impact the lives of new immigrants and receiving communities—including access to youth and adult education, workforce training, health care, and naturalization. Within 18 months after its formation, the Task Force must provide recommendations on how federal policies and programs might be changed to more effectively promote immigrant integration.

The legislation also creates a United States Citizenship Foundation, a private entity that will be able to accept private donations that will be used to promote immigrant integration and to fund two grant programs established in the legislation. Initial Entry, Adjustment, and Citizenship Assistance (IEACA) grants will be awarded to public and private nonprofit entities that will help immigrants through the legalization process, adjustment to permanent residence, and naturalization. The legislation sets aside $100 million over a period of five years to fund these grants, and an additional $10 million over the same period to run the Office of Citizenship and New Americans.

The legislation breaks new ground in acknowledging the federal government’s role in integrating our nation’s newcomers, but does it take the right approach?

Will an entity within the Department of Homeland Security be able to effectively coordinate the responses of other federal agencies?

How will these agencies be held accountable for developing policies and implementing programs that the new Office of Citizenship and New Americans deems necessary?

Are the resources provided by this legislation sufficient?

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  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    I would suggest a program to assist doctors, nurses, engineers and other with obtaining their licensing to pratice in the United State. Currently I have not found a program that helps them transfer their foreign licensing to U.S. licensing. It would also be helpful to have a program that assists immigrants with the translation and credential evaluation so they can use their diplomas, education, skills and knowledge here. their hard work should be ackonwlegded whether it was obtained here or abroad. Doctors should not be waiting tables, engineers and lawyers should not be working in convenience stores, nurses should not be doing janitorial work. How can we help the professionals to be recognized.,

    • mauricebelanger

      The integration element of the Senate legislation is remarkable in that it begins to acknowledge a federal government role in immigrant integration. However, the legislation only scratches the surface in terms of covering the broad array of issues that should be considered when we think about integrating our nation’s newcomers. The issue of credentialing is a big one, but is not specifically addressed in current legislation. The Workforce Investment Act might be a logical home for this issue, and it needs to be reauthorized. Your point highlights the fact that we lack policies that tackle integration directly.

      This is an issue that should be addressed by the inter-agency Task Force on New Americans, which will establish goals for immigrant integration across several executive branch agencies and create plans for accomplishing those goals. What other issues must the Task Force address?

    • Paul McDaniel

      That’s a great point about finding ways to ensure healthcare workers and other professionals can obtain their license to practice in the United States. Healthcare workers, such as primary/family care physicians, are already in demand and there appears to be a growing and projected shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S., and in specific geographic shortage ares in particular. Ensuring foreign-born healthcare workers and other professionals can practice in the U.S. will help alleviate growing shortage areas.

  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    I realize this may sound trivial but it can make a big difference. Promote soccer. It is a game that can be played by Americans and foreign born. If they play on teams together it promotes freindship and understanding on both sides. Cooking by and with Americans and foreign born gets people to a place they can talk and get to know each other while enjoying the experience of trying new foods. The arts is another way to help people integrate whether it is visual art, music, dance, plays but the idea is to get Americans and foreign born to interact. I have seen it at work. Sharing the things we enjoy as people creates doorways to understanding each other.

    • mauricebelanger

      Not trivial at all, and it would be wonderful to see more effort to engage receiving communities (such as Welcoming America’s Receiving Communities Initiative). This is actually touched on in the legislation. The United States Citizenship Foundation, established by the legislation, has, as one of its functions, “engaging receiving communities in the United States citizenship and civic integration process.” A new pilot program set up by the legislation will award grants to states and local governments to, among other things, “engage receiving communities in the citizenship and civic integration process by … building meaningful connections between newer immigrants and long-time residents; … communicating the contributions of receiving communities and new immigrants; and … engaging leaders from all sectors of the community.” Might the focus on “the citizenship and civic integration process” be too narrow?

  • Natalie Fair-Albright

    A Scholarship Fund for English as a Second Language for professionals and people who are going on to Bachelor Degree, Masters, PhD or for professional licensure. Currently the universities that I know teach this higher level of ESL have no scholarships and even LPR’s and new U.S. citizens cannot get any financial aid for this ESL. It is a barrier for them to utillize their skills and education. Many I know simply don’t have the money for this higher form of ESL and therefore cannot continue their education or get their licensure. It could be done even as a type of student loan to be repaid so then more students in the future could enjoy the benefits of this English training. I have worked at a university that teaches this ESL and I am familiar with other organizations that teach ESL to immigrants at churches and other social service oriented organization. There is a huge differnce.

    • Roxi Dillon

      Let’s take it further… why in the USA, it is not recognized that a person has studied several years at the University in their country, and thus, earned their DEGREE. A recognition of a Degree earned in another country should be recognized in the USA, and the person should simply take an English course (and pass exam) to be able to “validate” their Diploma. If the person is able to read and speak English well, that’s all he or she needs to be able to perform the knowledge they gained during so many years of study in their own language.

  • Ashley Gonzalez

    Besides the DREAM Act, this is probably my favorite part of the legislation. In immigration talks, the barriers faced by immigrants in our communities may come up, but the hardship is usually accepted as a natural process of integration. Or as self-imposed by the immigrants themselves (Why don’t they just learn English?). I like that the legislation goes beyond recognizing the barriers immigrants face to recognizing that it is our duty as a nation to help these immigrants integrate and feel welcome in their new homes. I’m wondering what will happen after the Task Force provides its recommendations. Who will be accountable to make sure these recommendations are acted upon? I’m also wondering how big of an impact the Office of New Citizenship and New Americans will have. Will it be granted enough resources to carry out all the authorized activities listed in the bill across the whole country? Are new programs going to be created, or is the main impact going to be affected by giving grants to existing organizations? I think the resources provided by the legislation would be sufficient if they were all implemented and made available to all communities, especially to people who are low-income and work full-time, but I’m not sure the legislation is sufficient to ensure this sweeping impact. A good idea would be to work English and civics classes into the workplace, but this would need to be in partnership with employers, and I don’t know how many employers would be on board with this.

    • mauricebelanger

      These are all very good questions, and get to the heart of our concerns about this part of the legislation. Once the Task Force has completed its work, it will be up to the Office of Citizenship and New Americans to carry on the work, coordinating the work of other agencies. Can the Office of Citizenship—an office within USCIS, which itself is a small part of the Department of Homeland Security—hold other agencies accountable for their part in this work? What might be a better structure for the federal coordination that is needed?

      What resource level might be more realistic to accomplish the work set out in the legislation? In recent years, the Office of Citizenship has allocated as much as $10 million in grants for organizations that help immigrants through the citizenship process. The amount authorized in this legislation, spread over five years, is only twice that—and will be used among other things to take the 11 million undocumented along the path from legalization to citizenship. (The wild card is the new United States Citizenship Foundation, which will bring in some private money, but how much is unknown.)

  • JVD

    Youth programs and more youth programs! The children of immigrants, born here or not, have a mile-wide generation gap with their parents, who grew up in different worlds.

    I see hard-working Mexican parents with gang-oriented kids that they cannot control. The kids can’t relate to their parents and they pick the worst role models in American culture.

    The Muslim kids – well, Boston tell us something about what they go through. And Chinese-American kids have their own problems, I’m sure.

    I can relate. My dad was born to an Ellis Island immigrant from Italy. I came of age in the Woodstock era. Our gap was miles wide, and it was agony for both of us. I don’t know what I would be like if I were growing up as the child of an immigrant today, when I might be tempted by the flash and profits of the drug cartels, or the righteousness of revenge for wrongs (real or perceived) against my fellow Chechens or Palestinians or Iranians or Iraquis.

    It always has been hard for the next generation to adjust. But in the past we didn’t have the Internet, frequent international travel, or easy access to modern weaponry. With all these things now i the picture, we have to commit ourselves to reaching out to the children of immigrants, whatever it takes.