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Should the Government Help Eight Million Immigrants Become U.S. citizens?

Jul 24, 2015
In The News

Immigrants in the United States all dream of becoming American citizens, right? Apparently not.

There are more than 8 million people who qualify for citizenship who have not taken the oath. So what's stopping these green-card holders from pledging allegiance to the American flag?

Congress and immigration-policy experts have been asking themselves that question.

It turns out that the biggest barrier for many immigrants is their poor English skills. Not only do they need to speak English to pass the citizenship test, but doing so also would help them get better jobs and contribute to the national tax base. Immigrants also have limited access to civics classes and may not understand the benefit of becoming voters.

That's why two members of Congress want the government to get involved.

Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from South Florida, introduced a bill Thursday to allow the federal government to give grants to programs that help integrate immigrants and encourage civic participation.

They worked on the legislation with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

"We don't have immigrant policy in the United States," says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "This forces the federal government to make sure new Americans are able to take advantage of the opportunities that are available."

Vargas and Cárdenas unveiled the New Americans Success Act during a press conference on Capitol Hill. The legislation allows the federal government—specifically, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services—to accept private donations to fund these integration programs. Grants would be given to state and city governments to offer English classes, civics classes and career development to legal permanent residents.

The biggest obstacle for Cárdenas and Ros-Lehtinen will be getting more Republicans on board.

A similar idea was proposed as part of the bipartisan immigration bill crafted by the Senate's "Gang of Eight." That went nowhere.

Many Republicans may see this latest incarnation as a scheme to register more Democratic voters. Green-card holders cannot vote. Immigrants who become naturalized citizens can. And the large number of Latino immigrants in this country tend to lean Democratic.

Mark Falzone, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, is optimistic. "Immigrants always remember who helped them," Falzone says. "This is politically beneficial to everyone."

We'll see if Republicans are convinced.

Key points in the bill:

  • Creation of a grant program for organizations that provide citizenship and civics classes to prepare legal immigrants to pass the citizenship test.

  • Creation of a grant program for state and city governments who come up with plans to integrate local immigrants.

  • Allowing the Homeland Security Department to solicit and accept private donations to fund these grants.

  • Waive the English-language fluency requirement for seniors who have been living in the United States for more than 10 years.