Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents:
The Federal Role in Immigrant & Refugee Integration
“Throughout our history, immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave, from every corner of the globe. And that’s what makes America special. That’s what makes us strong. The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life, it is in our DNA. We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different. From all these different strands, we make something new here in America.”
– President Barack Obama, July 4, 2014
Our nation has long been a beacon of hope and opportunity for people from around the world. Our success as a nation of immigrants is rooted in the American values of equality and opportunity, which secure our commitment to welcoming and integrating newcomers into the fabric of our nation. Immigrant and refugee integration, or the inclusion and incorporation of immigrants and refugees into communities throughout the U.S., is not only key to new Americans’ success but also beneficial to the receiving communities. From big cities to small towns, nearly 40 million foreign-born individuals living across the country are contributing to their communities. Among these, we include the over 3 million refugees who have been resettled in the U.S. since 1975. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 there were 25.3 million foreign-born workers in the United States, comprising 16.3% of the entire labor force, which demonstrates that they are an ever more important part of the American economy.
When new Americans have access to help tools, they are able to become successful entrepreneurs and engines for innovation. According to the latest estimates, immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses, despite accounting for only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Between 2006 and 2012, 44 percent of new tech startups in Silicon Valley had at least one immigrant founder. And immigrants or their children founded more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, which collectively employ over 10 million people and generate annual revenues of $4.2 trillion. Education and training occurs in a number of different locations in communities including schools, community colleges, libraries, job training centers and community-based organizations. With a strategy that is welcoming of immigrants and refugees, towns and cities become epicenters of growth in their regional economies. Additionally, strong civic participation by new Americans reinvigorates and supports a healthy democracy.
Over the past five years, the Obama Administration has worked to bolster integration efforts, maintain dialogue with stakeholders, and learn and apply best practices and key principles to inform a larger national strategy on immigrant integration. Additionally, President Obama strongly supports enhanced immigrant integration efforts as part of his commonsense plan to fix our broken immigration system. The Senate bipartisan immigration reform bill, as well as bipartisan legislation in the House, include key provisions that would strengthen efforts at the national, state, and local levels. Our efforts have been guided by three critical integration pillars: civic, economic, and linguistic.
Civic integration gives new Americans security in their rights and liberties, and creates buy-in for the nation and their communities’ future. The Administration has expanded opportunities for civic education and continues to provide expanded opportunities to citizenship for lawful permanent residents who hope to fully participate in and contribute to the richness of American society.
- Making Citizenship More Accessible: Requesting and obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves special consideration given the unique nature of this benefit to the individual applicant, the significant public benefit to the nation, and the nation’s proud tradition of welcoming new citizens. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security has kept the naturalization fee constant since 2007. Recognizing that some applicants cannot pay the filing fees, USCIS established a standardized fee waiver process for certain forms and benefit types, including naturalization.
- Providing New Tools to Prepare Applicants for Citizenship: USCIS has expanded the availability of high-quality citizenship preparation services by providing grants to organizations that offer both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services to permanent residents through its Citizenship and Integration Grant Program. Since 2009, USCIS has awarded approximately $33 million through 182 grants to immigrant-serving organizations that have provided citizenship preparation services to more than 78,000 qualified lawful permanent residents in 33 states and the District of Columbia. USCIS expects to award an additional $10 million to as many as 40 recipients in September 2014.
- Providing New Tools to Prepare Applicants for Citizenship: USCIS launched the Citizenship Resource Center, a central location for immigrants, educators, and organizations to find citizenship and naturalization information. USCIS also continues to develop tools to support citizenship preparation and an understanding of citizenship rights and responsibilities. For example, USCIS developed the interactive study tool, Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and introduced the U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet, a set of materials that provides new citizens with information about citizenship rights and responsibilities. The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has designated funds for states with refugee resettlement programs that can be directed to naturalization preparation services for refugees.
- Leveraging community partnerships: The Administration is working to forge innovative partnerships with localities to leverage collective resources to promote citizenship awareness, education and civic participation. For example, USCIS has partnered with the Cities of Chicago and Los Angeles, Nashville/Davidson County, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to provide information about citizenship and the naturalization process. ORR worked in partnership with the HHS Office of Community Services (OCS) to publish a Dear Colleague letter, encouraging collaboration to help support refugee resettlement by providing linkages to community services projects, technical assistance resources, funding opportunity announcements, and outreach/partnership initiatives.
- Working with receiving communities: USCIS, ORR and the Department of Education (ED) are committed to incorporating immigrant-receiving communities into requests for proposals for immigrant and refugee integration. For example, ORR funds technical assistance providers who help support the nation’s refugee resettlement network to foster community engagement and strengthen receiving communities that welcome refugees and USCIS continues to offer free training seminars for adult citizenship educators and volunteers to enhance the skills needed to teach U.S. history, civics, and the naturalization process to immigrants. ORR also funds the Ethnic Community Self-Help Program, which provides assistance to refugee community based organizations and other groups that address community building, and facilitate cultural understanding and integration of refugees.
Successful economic integration empowers immigrants with self-sufficiency and the ability to give back to their communities. The Administration has created opportunities for career growth and development, fostered channels of communication between workers and their employers, and educated new Americans about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
- Ensuring the Public Workforce System Meets the Needs of new Americans: The public workforce system overseen by the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA) engages new Americans in several ways. First, state and local workforce agencies and American Job Centers partner with immigrant-serving organizations to provide responsive employment and support services. For example, ETA recently awarded grants for training dislocated workers to enable six states to expand partnerships with community organizations to help foreign-trained immigrants and others acquire the necessary certifications, licenses, and English language skills to pursue their professions in the U.S. Second, ETA issues guidance to the workforce system on eligibility and service provision. In addition, DOL has issued guidance and provided technical assistance to the workforce system in serving limited English proficient (LEP) clients. Finally, ETA and other DOL agencies provide multi-lingual materials and resources for job seekers and program administrators. For example, the Toll Free Help Line, 1-877-USA JOBS, provides a full range of basic information about workforce program services in over 180 languages.
- Collaborating with Employers, Educational Institutions, and Others to Enhance Career Pathways: Increasing positive experiences with employers can be the key to successful economic integration of new Americans. The Administration is creating connections between employers and training programs to benefit new Americans. For example, the DOL has been expanding employer partnerships through work-based learning approaches, such as Registered Apprenticeship and On-the-Job Training (OJT). These programs allow English Learners to acquire skills and training that can lead to more career opportunities. They also provide an avenue for employers to build a qualified workforce. For example, the state of New Hampshire’s OJT program, expanded with grants from DOL, has met the needs of employers seeking to hire and train workers who speak languages other than English. Additionally, ED, HHS, and DOL have issued a joint memorandum to promote the use of career pathways to help adults, including new Americans, acquire marketable skills, industry recognized credentials and health and social services.
- Taking Full Advantage of the Talents of New Americans: It is critical that we work to capture the talents of immigrants and refugees with foreign education to enable them to work in their field or industry of expertise, more fully contribute to their new communities, earn higher wages, fill jobs in areas where employers may face shortages of trained individuals, and allow for the innovation and entrepreneurship to help build local economies. ED has convened policy summits with federal partnership and national organizations to develop a strategic action plan. ORR’s Microenterprise Development Program helps refugees develop, expand or maintain their own businesses and enhances the integration of refugees into the mainstream economy. During the last 20 years, refugees have created approximately 10,000 businesses that have led to more than 11,000 new jobs (many to other refugees) and over 24,000 refugees have gained new entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. ORR also funds a Home-Based Child Care Program, which provides business opportunities to refugees who are interested in becoming licensed childcare service providers.
- Enforcing Labor Standards, Protecting Worker’ Safety & Enforcing Nondiscrimination: Wage protection and workers’ safety are critical elements for creating healthy workplaces. However, new American workers are often more vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers due to language and cultural barriers. DOL has made inroads to engage with New American and immigrant communities. For example, DOL and DOJ are working collaboratively to host six listening sessions across the country to hear and to be responsive to Asian American workers’ labor concerns. DOL and the White House Initiative on Asian American Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) have also partnered to focus on education and train-the-trainer activities in targeted sectors, such as nail salons, that employ large numbers of Asian American workers and the DOL Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) conducts outreach and provides education for vulnerable populations to educate workers about their workplace rights and applicable non-discrimination provisions of laws enforced by OFCCP. Additionally, the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices ensures the protection of work-authorized individuals, including recent immigrants, refugees and asylees.
- Building Capital and Nurturing Individual and Family Assets: The Administration is committed to helping new Americans make informed financial decisions, such as saving for retirement and higher education, as well as understanding credit card, student loan, and mortgage debt. The Administration also recognizes that home ownership is an important step for new Americans and, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched a National Origin Initiative to educate newcomers about fair housing and access to housing programs. Its Choice Neighborhoods program promotes diverse, inclusive communities that give new Americans access to neighborhoods of opportunity. ORR’s Individual Development Accounts Program is designed to help match refugees’ own savings from their employment to save for important investments, such as small business development and post-secondary education. In addition, ORR’s HHS partner, OCS, published the Assets for Independence Program funding opportunity announcement which includes bonus points for key collaborations with refugee-serving organizations.
English language acquisition is vitally important for new Americans to integrate into their communities. The ability to understand and communicate in English has a significant impact on an immigrant’s ability to find a job, advance in a career and become civically active in his or her community. In essence, bilingual skills including English language skills are the key to new Americans’ meaningful participation and contribution to their communities. The Administration strives to ensure that new Americans have access to quality English language instruction through educational institutions, community and faith-based organizations, the workplace and digital platforms.
- Promoting English Language Learning and Literacy: In communities around the country, ED supports adult education and family literacy programs specifically tailored to assist adults and families in getting the basic skills and English proficiency they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens. These programs provide instruction below the postsecondary level to adults who are 16 years of age or older and are not enrolled or required to be enrolled in secondary school under state law. Federal funding also supports civics education for new immigrants who are learning in English. Approximately 1.7 million adults were enrolled in adult education during the 2012 – 2013 program years, and of those, over 670,000 were enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs.
- Providing Tools and Training to Instructors and Teachers: The ED Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) administers grants and contracts to support English language teachers and programs, such as the National Adult English Language Learning Professional Development Network (ELL-U), the Literacy Information and Communications System (LINCS) Adult English Language Learners Resource Collection, and the Adult Education and Immigrant Integration Initiative. Additionally, EL/Civics Online is a web-based professional development resource that helps teachers incorporate English literacy and civics content into adult ESL classrooms. Finally, ED’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) administers, the National Professional Development Program which provides professional development activities for K-12 teachers intended to improve their instruction of LEP students.
- Supporting Schools, Families and Dual Generation Learning: For many immigrant families, schools and educational institutions are often the most meaningful interaction they have with a government entity. Improving new Americans’ educational outcomes means expanding the future competitiveness of the U.S. in the new global economy. Providing assistance to immigrant students and their families generates more active participation in the educational process has a positive effect on students’ educational outcomes including school readiness. ED funds programs for pre-school, elementary, and secondary education that offer resources and support services for the integration of immigrant children, youth, and adults including through the Title III program, Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students. For example, ORR’s Refugee School Impact Program provides orientations, tutoring, after school programming, parent/teacher conferences, interpretation assistance and additional information on navigating the school system. In a historic partnership, ORR the HHS Office of Child Care (OCC) released a joint Information Memorandum (IM) offering strong encouragement to partner at state, regional and local levels increase refugee families’ access to high-quality child care. In addition, ORR, OCC and the HHS Office of Head Start (OHS) developed a resource document on linking refugee resettlement and early childhood networks to further facilitate collaboration.
- Ensuring Language Access and Equal Access: DOJ’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section and its Interagency Working Group on Limited English Proficiency work to ensure that Federal agencies are enforcing Title VI consistently and effectively with respect to the obligations of recipients of Federal funding to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. Additionally, DOL’s Civil Rights Center enforces and provides ongoing technical assistance and training to the States and other entities regarding their obligations under the Workforce Investment Act and related laws to ensure equal access to workforce development system programs, benefits and activities for individuals regardless of national origin or citizenship status. These language assistance services, such as interpretation and translation, are critical to LEP individuals’ access to everything from state courts to filing taxes. DOJ is also coordinating the implementation of an executive order entitled Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, which requires Federal agencies to ensure access for LEP individuals to federally conducted services, programs, and activities. ORR’s refugee health resources aim to ensure refugees’ access to critical mainstream health resources and information by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate materials and videos on health insurance and refugee women’s health.