Today, the White House Task Force on New Americans released a report, “Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents: A Federal Strategic Action Plan on Immigrant and Refugee Integration.” The report stems from President Obama’s November 21, 2014, memorandum, “Creating Welcoming Communities and Fully Integrating Immigrants and Refugees.” That memorandum created the New Americans Task Force and since that time, Task Force members have looked at existing federal integration initiatives and solicited ideas from the public. The plan is a synthesis of the Task Force’s work of the past several months.
“There is a crucial element of the immigration story that is too often ignored – the barriers preventing millions of eligible immigrants from becoming American citizens,” says Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which leads the New Americans Campaign. “The New Americans Campaign applauds the efforts to encourage naturalization and to help lawful permanent residents achieve their American dream.”
There are currently an estimated 8.8 million lawful permanent residents eligible for citizenship. On average, less than 10 percent naturalize every year.
The Task Force recommendations include a section devoted to the promotion of naturalization. The 13 recommended actions listed are a mix of old and new ideas. They are:
- Continue to seek appropriated funding for the Immigrant Integration Grant Initiative.
- Institute a Presidential Ambassadors program, working with prominent new Americans to promote naturalization.
- Launch a public awareness media campaign, working with communities and key stakeholders. USCIS has done this in the past, and this idea resurfaced as part of last November’s Immigration Executive Actions.
- Assess the potential for a partial fee waiver. Even though fee waivers are available for the naturalization application, the high fee still can be a barrier to those who don’t qualify for a complete fee waiver. USCIS will evaluate the feasibility of a partial fee waiver in its next immigration fees review. This idea was also part of last November’s Executive Actions.
- Allow applicants to pay with a credit card – another idea from last November.
- Assess the feasibility of increasing USCIS mobile services, to provide better access for immigrants in remote rural areas.
- Develop new online naturalization preparation and application filing tools that will be available on the USCIS website.
- Identify opportunities to inform lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of their potential eligibility for citizenship by, for example, communicating with LPRs seeking to renew their green cards.
- Expand citizenship outreach partnerships with local governments, libraries, the private sector and others.
- Provide newly-arriving immigrants with settlement resources, including available English language learning opportunities.
- Encourage new Americans to volunteer, thus highlighting stories of successful new Americans.
- Launch a refugee AmeriCorps program, focusing on the successful integration of refugees.
These are just a handful of recommendations in the larger report suggesting federal actions to support immigrant integration, and some of these ideas are adopted from recommendations submitted by the Naturalization Working Group, an immigration policy and advocacy coalition comprised of New Americans Campaign partners that compliments the campaign’s work.
You can find the full report here.
There is also a special section of the White House website accompanying this report, The New Americans Project.
The Task Force is comprised of 16 federal departments, agencies and White House offices. Its efforts are led by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and León Rodríguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.