While the ongoing fight to reform this country’s broken immigration system has been long and arduous, one thing has been made clear over the past year: Americans understand the value that immigrants bring to this country.
The path our lawmakers will choose to modernize our immigration system remains unclear, as is the question of addressing the tragic outflow of unaccompanied refugee children from Central America. But for the benefit of our economy and our communities, we hope that a solution comes quickly. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to bolster our economy by harnessing the potential of the millions of lawfully present immigrants already living in the United States.
Earlier this week, Reps. Tony Cardenas (D–Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.) introduced the “New American Success Act,” a bill designed to help these new arrivals through the naturalization process and to better integrate them into American society. This long-overdue legislation brings to light a pressing need that has gone unaddressed. For decades, this country has lacked a coherent federal strategy to maximize the speed and depth of immigrant integration. The various agencies that run programs for new arrivals too often work in silos. To better coordinate all of these agencies’ efforts, the “New American Success Act” would establish a National Office of New Americans within the White House, charged with creating a comprehensive federal strategy to better assist new arrivals through the naturalization process. The office would help to determine which programs are operating effectively, which need to be improved upon, and how agencies can align their work in order to maximize their efforts.
The bill also provides resources for programs that are specifically designed to help prepare new arrivals for American life. Civics education and understanding the responsibilities of citizenship are crucial elements of the naturalization process, but it takes more than just that knowledge to become a fully functioning member of American society. More than ever, employers require workers to possess higher levels of education and English proficiency. This legislation would support the linguistic and economic integration programs that will not only help new arrivals land on their feet, but also set them on a road to greater success.
Over the past few years, I have participated in a number of naturalization ceremonies and am always struck by the spirit and determination that each new immigrant brings to this country. Many of them have made it through the difficult naturalization process with little help, yet remain committed to the American Dream of creating a better life for themselves through hard work.
Imagine the reward this country and our economy would reap if it invested more in preparing new arrivals for success. Our strength as a nation is our ability to attract a diverse wealth of talent from across the globe, and use their skills and energy to advance our economy and society. A century ago, through the private-sector Settlement House movement, the creation of the publicly funded adult education system, and the philanthropy of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who created the modern public library system, we successfully integrated millions of immigrants. Those immigrants helped us win two world wars, built the world’s most powerful economy, and re-energized our society. The “New American Success Act” lays the foundation for creating a smarter, more effective pathway to naturalization and integration in this country by reaffirming one of our nation’s mottos: “e pluribus unum,” out of many, one.
Murguía is president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the nation.