By By Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) - 09/17/14 01:02 PM EDT
As representatives, we disagree on some issues. However, as Americans, we have similar stories. One fled her native Cuba as an 8-year-old, journeying to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen. The other, born in California, was the last of eleven children of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, whose first- and second-grade educations raised a family of doctors, teachers, engineers and other professionals.
No matter if you came to the United States searching for a better life for you and your family, or you were born in the United States to immigrant parents, citizenship is something to which most immigrant families aspire. From Cuba to Lebanon, Mexico to Bangladesh, people from around the world have hungered to come to our great nation. This privilege has opened doors to a new way of life and, for some, unimaginable success.
Our nation is improved through the efforts of new Americans to improve themselves as they pursue their American dream.
That is why today we celebrate Citizenship Day, alongside thousands of new Americans who will mark this day by taking the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States or moving forward with their citizenship applications.
New Americans see the promise of their dream, but they also see the tangible rewards of citizenship: the chance to vote, to hold public office, or to travel on a U.S. passport. Many new Americans will also earn more over their lifetimes than legal permanent residents who do not become citizens.
The benefits of becoming a citizen echo beyond the new American. When legal permanent residents raise their hand and pledge loyalty to their new country, our nation excels. The spark of invention and innovation gleams in our New Americans and aspiring citizens. They are the current and future innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators of America.
Sometimes, they even get elected to Congress.
Though we see and understand the benefits of new Americans, many of our eight million legal permanent residents face steep barriers that put their dream out of reach.
We can do more to encourage legal permanent residents to become Americans. That is why, to expand opportunities for these vital members of our society, we have introduced legislation that would provide much needed assistance with the process.
The New American Success Act will help new Americans integrate into society quickly. It would broaden access to programs that help with English skills, civics education and other facets of adapting during the naturalization process.
Our bill will establish an office and task force, streamlining these initiatives and making policy recommendations; create a grant program to empower eligible organizations that assist immigrants with the naturalizations process; and found “Integration Success Grants,” encouraging integration partnerships among states, municipalities and nonprofits.
These measures will amplify the efforts nonprofits and businesses already are making on their own.
Initiatives like the New Americans Campaign and the Bethlehem Project help ease the way for legal permanent residents to become citizens. As we observe Citizenship Day, the New Americans Campaign is holding dozens of citizenship workshops in 17 cities, and the City of Los Angeles is announcing a partnership with the Bethlehem Project, which has a successful track record with businesses in L.A., Miami and elsewhere.
Immigration has once again become a political flashpoint in Washington. With that in mind, however, the public service inherent in helping legal immigrants embrace full citizenship, with all of the rights and responsibilities it entails, should be widely embraced on a bipartisan basis.
When more new Americans have the opportunities, skills and status to thrive, America will thrive.
As we celebrate America’s newest citizens today, we look forward to working together and helping more who are eligible contribute fully to our communities and our country as citizens.
Ros-Lehtinen has represented congressional districts in South Florida since 1989. She sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Rules committees. Cárdenas has represented California’s 29th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Natural Resources; the Oversight and Government Reform; and the Budget committees.