THE AVENUE OCTOBER 12, 2009
In a year-long effort to recast the immigration debate, the Brookings-Duke Immigration Policy Roundtable released a set of recommendations that takes on “ways to reduce illegal immigration significantly, set standards for the legalization of illegal immigrants already in this country, rebalance current visa programs, improve temporary worker programs, and assimilate and integrate immigrants into American society.”
In addition to tackling the big ticket items like worksite enforcement, legalization, and admissions, the roundtable (I was a participant) also deliberated how to deal with the future flow of immigrants and how to engage with the Mexican government on the issue.
But in a departure from many recent proposals, the recommendations set a place at the table through vigorous discussion of how to address the assimilation of the now 38 million immigrants living across the country and what role government should play.
Among the specific proposals is the creation of a new federal Office for New Americans (ONA) that would elevate the largely makeshift and localized efforts toward integration to form a strategic nationwide network.
This network would knit together ongoing state and local efforts, both public and private to build up the capacity of voluntary and government agencies to do the work of integrating newcomers more strategically. Recognizing that states and localities have a variety of challenges and contexts of reception, ONA would help develop and shape programs such as those related to English language instruction and civics education, and engage the voluntary sector in immigrant integration.
What did not make it into the final recommendations, largely due to time constraints, is an impact aid program for areas most in need of funds to facilitate the social, civic, and economic integration of immigrant newcomers. Such a program would aim to compensate areas that have seen the greatest impact of immigration on public services such as education, healthcare, and public safety. Past proposals have tied this funding to fees collected through a legalization program.
At a time when localities and nonprofits are facing extreme budget shortfalls, unemployment rates are rising, and local officials are being pressured to “do something” about immigration, a local impact aid program could help.