March 6, 2009

More Integration Needed for Immigrants

By Martín E Martínez
Vida En El Valle

SACRAMENTO — Elizabeth Rodríguez, 23, has no doubt that education is the key to realizing her dream of leaving behind her work as a childcare provider in favor of a successful professional career.

She arrived in Sacramento a year ago from the city of Chihuahua, México, planning to work, earn money and study, something that would be very difficult in her home country.

Since arriving here, Rodríguez has found her plan stymied by language and cultural barriers.

“When you get here you discover a lot of obstacles that don’t let you get ahead, especially when you don’t speak English or don’t understand people’s way of thinking in this country,” said Rodríguez, who graduated from high school in México.

With that in mind, she signed up for English classes at the Florin Technology Education Center, a South Sacramento organization that offers adult citizenship classes, among other services.

“In the three months I’ve been taking classes I’ve learned some English, but I believe our resources there are limited, and don’t let you really learn English fluently, although the teachers make a heroic effort. Often, they don’t have the support they need to teach the language,” she said.

Rodríguez’s opinion largely echoes the findings of a new report by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) titled ‘Building an Americanization Movement for the 21st Century.’

In the report, task force committee chair Alfonso Aguilar suggests the U.S. government should do more to help new immigrants learn English and promote integration nationwide.

“While immigration falls under the federal government’s area of responsibility, immigrants do not have a strong presence at the federal level; instead, they’re represented mostly at the city and local community level,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar says the Obama administration should take the issue of immigration more seriously than past administrations have done, reinforcing efforts at the federal level to integrate immigrants into U.S. culture.

Ivan Light, a UCLA sociology professor, seconds the study’s finding that the federal government doesn’t do enough to provide resources to help immigrants integrate.

“Immigrants are often criticized for not trying harder to learn English and assimilate into American society, yet the truth is that those charges are utterly false. Immigrants want to move forward, to learn English, but the government resources available to them are just not sufficient,” said Light.

He added that tremendous educational technology aides are available these days, but the federal government does not put those resources within reach of immigrants.

“It’s urgent that the federal as well as the state government bring immigrants together with those resources, which would make their lives easier and bring them into better integration with the wider society,” said Light, author of the book ‘Deflecting Immigration.’

According to the report, the U.S. population grew from 200 million to 300 million between 1966 and 2008, with 55 percent of that new growth coming from new immigrants and their children.

U.S. Census experts estimate that by 2042, the country’s population will be dominated by minorities, who should account for almost 65 percent of all Americans.

“Therefore it’s important to reach a solid understanding of the values of the United States Constitution, emphasizing communication in one shared language,” Aguilar said in the report.

José Rodríguez, president of El Concilio de Stockton, a community center that provides English and citizenship classes, assured that students there have a strong interest in learning English and integrating themselves into American society.

“We have a long list of people waiting to enroll in our classes and we see a great interest in learning the history, culture and language of this country, because they know that’s the key to their success,” Rodríguez said.

But the problem, according to Rodríguez, is that adult institutions like his don’t receive sufficient funding from the government to satisfy the huge demand for services.

”This report is right: the government should provide more resources to adult centers to improve our programs and provide more resources to immigrants to help make their integration in this country fast and efficient,” said Rodríguez.

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