The Senate Judiciary Committee has begun considering amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. In the next week or two, the committee will consider amendments to Title II, which contains the language on immigrant integration.
The original bill provides very little for immigrant integration relative to the expected need. It requires legalizing immigrants to learn enough English to pass the naturalization test or, in the alternative, show they are “satisfactorily pursuing a course of study…to achieve an understanding of English” and civics.
For this, the bill says the Secretary may use up to $50 million to grant to immigrant service providers from a special trust fund that will collect fees and penalties established in the bill. By contrast, at least $7 billion is allocated for border security from the trust fund.
The integration subtitle of title II contains language authorizing appropriations of $100 million over five years to help immigrants who legalizing, adjusting to permanent status, and becoming citizens. (In addition, that same pot of money is to be used for pilot programs for states and localities to set up integration councils, and for other purposes.) That money is not guaranteed, but would be subject to the annual appropriations process.
Still, there are three amendments to delete this funding pending before the committee.
With little or no funding to help legalizing immigrants get through the process, are we setting ourselves up for failure in the implementation of this bill?
A few years ago, in a previous version of immigration reform that contained similar English and civics requirements for legalizing immigrants, the Migration Policy Institute estimated it would take a total of 277 million hours of English instruction to bring legalizing immigrants to the proficiency needed to pass the naturalization test, costing an estimated $2.9 billion per year for six years.
While the cost might be less today for a variety of reasons, there is also the work of outreach, legal assistance and other efforts required for a successful legalization program.
Should the government do it all?
Or does it make sense to grant money to organizations with the most experience reaching and serving immigrant communities?
How much should be allocated to ensure implementation of the legalization program is successful?