Integration Sign On Letter

January 29, 2013

January 29, 2013

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President,

 

The included letter is being sent on behalf of the Naturalization Working Group, a coalition of organizations concerned with immigration policy and immigration services as they relate to preparing immigrants to become U.S. citizens. The signers include members of the Naturalization Working Group, the National Partnership for New Americans, and other local and national organizations that assist immigrants in the citizenship process or that advocate for more inclusive immigration and citizenship policies.

 

Questions about the included letter may be addressed to:

 

Max Sevilla

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund

msevillia@naleo.org

 

Maurice Belanger

National Immigration Forum

mbelanger@immigrationforum.org

 

Enclosure: Sign-on letter from 56 national and local organizations.

cc:

Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff

Cecilia Muñoz, Director, Domestic Policy Council

Felicia Escobar, Senior Policy Director for Immigration

Tyler Moran, Deputy Director for Immigration

Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Rebecca Carson, Chief of Staff, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Laura Patching, Acting Chief, Office of Citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

 

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President,

 

The undersigned organizations are dedicated to helping immigrants become American citizens, either through the provision of direct services or through advocacy for policies that will make the naturalization process a smoother one.

We would like to congratulate you on your election to a second term, and we look forward to working with your administration to help and encourage those who become Americans by choice. We are excited that you have prioritized immigration reform in 2013 and support efforts to find a path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Without careful consideration of their full integration, however, they will face many of the same obstacles to full citizenship that prove to be barriers to naturalization for many current lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Consequently, we urge your administration to continue its efforts on behalf of all immigrants who seek to become American citizens.

Your administration has already demonstrated a commitment to help legal permanent residents (LPRs) who are taking steps to become Americans, and we applaud the efforts of your team. As you begin your second term, we would like to outline administrative and legislative steps that we believe will strengthen this country’s commitment to embrace those seeking to become Americans.

Make Naturalization Financially Accessible

As a nation, we should do everything we can to encourage LPRs to become American citizens in order to strengthen our democracy and ensure it remains robust and responsive. However, the price of naturalization has risen much faster than the rate of inflation in recent years and for aspiring citizens in low-paying jobs, the fee can be a substantial obstacle to attaining American citizenship. A recent nationwide public opinion survey of Latinos found that a significant percentage of those who were not yet citizens but who were eligible to apply cited the cost of application as the reason they had not applied. Many of us work directly with legal permanent residents, providing assistance with the naturalization process, and this survey’s finding is consistent with the barriers mentioned by the potential applicants we serve.

We applaud your administration for keeping the naturalization fee from rising further in your first term. It is critical that, in future adjustments to immigration fees, the cost of naturalization not be increased and, if feasible, decreased so that it is less of a burden for LPRs who struggle to make ends meet.

Create a White House Office of New Americans

While America welcomes hundreds of thousands of newcomers each year, there is no national immigrant integration policy. At the same time, states and localities face increasing demands on their limited resources. Given the reality that much of the work of integrating immigrants takes place at the local level, it is critical that the federal government provide necessary support and ensure equal opportunity for newcomers to acquire the skills to participate effectively in the economic and civic life of our nation. The federal government currently has no dedicated office to coordinate federal resources to help newcomers integrate into our society. During your first term, your administration took steps to coordinate federal resources with some interagency meetings on the subject. We urge you in your second term to formalize the process and create a White House Office for New Americans.

This office should be responsible for directing and working with all federal agencies to develop immigrant inclusion plans. Such plans would address how agencies will incorporate immigrants in their programs, materials and outreach. Such an office can direct federal agencies to examine how already existing resources at their disposal might be more effectively used to help newcomers develop the language skills, workplace skills, and knowledge of U.S. history and government immigrants need to become fully incorporated members of their communities and country.

 

Make Naturalization More Accessible to the Elderly

We are also concerned that many elderly LPRs face a significant barrier in their quest for citizenship by the requirement to learn the English language. Indeed, the latest study of the naturalization test pass rates indicate that the elderly (those who are 65 and older) have the lowest naturalization test pass rate, and it is the English portion of the test that is usually the stumbling block. Currently, there are exemptions for elderly LPRs that allow them to take the naturalization test in their native language, but these exemptions do not become available until the LPR has lived in the United States for many years (up to 20 years).

We will be seeking legislation to streamline the English language exemption for the elderly, so that elderly LPRs who are 65 or older and are otherwise eligible for naturalization may take the naturalization test in their native language if they choose to do so. We ask that the administration support this effort.

Support Naturalization in the Budget Process

In the past, your administration has gone to Congress to ask for appropriated funding to help LPRs naturalize by funding U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) integration initiatives, such as the U.S. citizenship grant program. Your administration has also gone to Congress with requests for funding to pay for refugee application processing and other functions that USCIS must perform but that are now paid for through subsidies charged to fee-paying immigrants applying for other immigration benefits. Appropriated funds to pay for these services would mitigate the cost of naturalization and other immigration benefits by eliminating the surcharges now necessary to pay for unfunded work.

We understand that, in the current Congressional climate, obtaining funding for new programs is challenging. However, it is in times like these when we most need your leadership and persistence. We ask that you continue to fight for this crucial funding. USCIS is asked to do too many things for which it does not receive funding, and the gap in funding is filled with surcharges on application fees of naturalization and other applications, one reason those fees have become so burdensome in recent years. An appropriation from Congress that might lower fees would be an investment in America’s future citizens, as would continued funding for the innovative initiatives conducted by USCIS to encourage immigrants to become citizens. We urge you to continue to ask for this investment.

Support Efforts to Set Up a Public/Private Foundation Dedicated to Immigrant Integration

We will be seeking legislation in the next Congress to authorize the establishment of a foundation affiliated with USCIS that will accept private donations that may be used by the foundation to encourage and help immigrants integrate. The idea has already been raised with your administration, and we urge your administration’s continued support for the concept. Such a foundation would, among other things, supplement efforts to reach out to and assist LPRs seeking to become citizens, which could include making English language instruction more widely available. The foundation’s efforts could play an important role in a time of decreasing or uncertain federal resources.

Include Immigrant Integration Measures in a Broader Immigration Bill

The legislative proposals raised in this letter provide a framework for ensuring the future success of all immigrants—those who enter the country through traditional means as well as those who may become legal residents through a legalization program. To ensure the success of immigration reform, a vibrant integration program is essential.

We are grateful for the many ways in which your administration has increased its support and attention to the integration and naturalization of immigrants. The coming years offer tremendous potential to do more. Attention to immigrant integration today is an investment in the future of America.

Sincerely,

Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, Chicago, Illinois

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Asian American Institute, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Chicago, Illinois

Asian American Justice Center, member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice

Asian-Americans for Equality, New York, New York

Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Seattle, Washington

Asian Pacific American Legal Center, member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, California

CARECEN (Central American Resource Center), Los Angeles, California

Catholic Charities Maine Refugee & Immigration Services, Portland, Maine

Catholic Community Services Family Immigration Services, Mt. Vernon, Washington

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)

Citizenship News

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), Los Angeles, California

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California

Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica (COFEM)

CUNY Citizenship Now!, New York, New York

El Centro Hispano, Inc, Durham, North Carolina

Filipino American Service Group Inc. (FASGI), Los Angeles, California

Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM, Inc.), Fresno, California

Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, New York, New York

Healthy House Within a MATCH Coalition, Merced, California

HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)

HIAS Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Hispanic American Community Education and Services, Waukegan, Illinois

Hmong, Mien, Lao Community Action Network (HMLCAN), Sacramento, California

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Chicago, Illinois

Immigrant Access to Justice Assistance, Los Angeles, California

Immigrant Integration Lab of Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Jewish Labor Committee, New York, New York

Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, Los Angeles, California

Korean Resource Center, Los Angeles, California

Lao Family Community Empowerment, Inc, Stockton, California

Lutheran Community Services Northwest, SeaTac, Washington

Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Boston, Massachusetts

Mi Familia Vota Education Fund

Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (MCIRR), Kalamazoo, Michigan

Mujeres Latinas en Acción, Chicago, Illinois

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council of La Raza (NCLR)

National Immigration Forum

National Partnership for New Americans

Neighborhood Centers, Inc., Houston, Texas

Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, New York, New York

OCA: An Asian Pacific American Advocacy Organization

One America, Seattle, Washington

PICO National Network

Presente.org

Proyecto Inmigrante, Dallas, Texas

Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN), San Jose, California

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Tacoma Community House, Tacoma, Washington

Thai Community Development Center, Los Angeles, California

UJA-Federation of New York, Inc., New York, New York

Vail Center for Immigrant Rights, Los Angeles, California