Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) joined on Tuesday to introduce legislation that would help immigrants integrate into the American society and navigate the naturalization process.
The bill dubbed New American Success Act seeks to speed up the integration of new Americans. It also seeks to ensure that immigrants have access to programs that will help them learn English and civics education as they go through the process of becoming U.S. citizens.
Our country is a nation of immigrants that has only been strengthened by the contributions of those who wish to work hard and improve themselves, Ros-Lehtinen said. We should ensure that everyone who wishes to integrate into our country is able to have the ability to do so.
Specifically, the bipartisan bill would create the National Office of New Americans to provide advice, counsel and coordination on a multi-agency strategy to ultimately help immigrants integrate and become contributing members of American society. It would also create the Task Force on New Americans to examine integration policies and make recommendations to Congress and the executive branch.
In addition, the bill would create two grant programs. One of them would make public, private or non-profit organizations eligible for grant funding to assist immigrants who are going through the naturalization process. The other one would enable states and some partnerships between municipalities and non-profits to compete for grant funding in the areas of civic, linguistic and economic integration.
While we discuss our broken immigration system in Washington, it is critical that we not lose focus on those who are new to our nation, who want to build their American Dream, Cardenas said. New Americans are more likely to create small businesses, and are critical to our economy.
There are currently about 13.3 million legal permanent residents living in the United States, and 8.7 million of them are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. California, New York, Texas and Florida are among the top states with the largest numbers of immigrants who are eligible to become naturalized citizens.
Cardenas: U.S. economy benefits from immigrants
Cardenas said it is important to understand that some immigrants dont have high levels of education when they first arrive in the U.S. Therefore, he said they struggle to learn English and the civics education necessary to pass the citizenship test. He told the story of how his parents fit into this category.
My mother and father grew up in a very small town in Jalisco, Mexico, he said. They got married and moved to California, but they got here only with a first and second grade education.
Cardenas also pointed to his mother and father, who was a farm worker, to show how immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy. He said his parents worked hard and raised 11 children who went on to earn college degrees and high-paying jobs. Now, their children contribute thousands of dollars in taxes to the U.S. economy every year.
The reason why this is such an important bill is because the sooner we can get immigrants to integrate into our country and be able to have their skills elevate, as the economist point out, it will benefit American citizens because we will see the economy thrive, he said.
Cardenas and Ros-Lehtinens bill has the support of more than a dozen Latino and pro-immigrant organizations, including the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) and the National Immigration Forum.
Janet Murguia, president and CEO of NCLR, commended Cardenas and Ros-Lehtinen for working together on the bipartisan bill.
With all eyes on immigration reform, the issue of immigrant integration has unfortunately been placed on the backburner for far too long by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Murguia said in a statement on Tuesday. There are millions of lawfully present immigrants already living in the United States who can help spur our economy, if we provide them with the tools and resources necessary to make it through the naturalization process.
NALEO also released a statement on Tuesday, applauding Cardenas and Ros-Lehtinen for taking an important step in providing immigrants with increased integration support by introducing groundbreaking bipartisan legislation today.
We commend the U.S. Representatives for acting and recognizing that it is time for our nation to have a national strategy in place for improving the opportunities available for all immigrants to become full participants in our society, NALEO stated.