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?