Bill would boost immigrant integration programs

Reps. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) have introduced legislation to establish an office within the White House to help integrate immigrants into the U.S.

Under the bill, the National Office of New Americans would be part of the Executive Office of the President and coordinate a review of federal and state agencies' immigrant integration policies.

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"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 in a statement.

Ros-Lehtinen, one of the few House Republicans in support of comprehensive immigration reform, said it would help new immigrants adapt to American society.

"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."

The measure would also authorize grant awards to programs run by nonprofits and local municipalities that help immigrants apply for permanent residency.

Another provision of the bill would eliminate the requirement of immigrants applying to be naturalized as U.S. citizens to learn English if they have a physical or mental disability, are more than 65 years old, or have been living in the U.S. at least five years after being admitted for permanent residence.

Several immigration reform advocacy groups have signed onto the bill, including the National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Forum, OneAmerica and the National Immigration Law Center.