Legislation introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representatives would significantly increase federal investment in immigrant integration. Key elements of the bill, known as the New Deal for New Americans, reflect recommendations made by National Skills Coalition.
The legislation was introduced by Representatives Grace Meng (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL).
Unlike the majority of federal legislation related to immigrants, which typically focuses on immigration policy such as how many individuals to admit to the U.S. and which types of visas to make available, the new bill is instead focused on the integration of immigrant newcomers into American communities. It reflects significant advances made at the state and local level in the field of immigrant integration over the past decade.
This bold, ambitious proposal has already been endorsed by more than 100 immigrant advocacy organizations and other stakeholders. Efforts are now underway to add additional Congressional co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. Use our action tool to ask your Congressional representative to sign on.
See below for more details about this vital legislation, and watch for additional updates from NSC in the coming months.
New investment in English, proven job training approaches
The legislation reflects an increased Congressional understanding of the important role that adult education and workforce development policy play in ensuring that immigrant workers can contribute their full talents and abilities, and fill in-demand positions with American businesses. As documented by NSC in a range of publications, immigrants represent 1 in 6 American workers at all levels of the labor market, including in key middle-skill jobs that form the backbone of our economy.
Among the bill’s core elements are several recommendations put forth by National Skills Coalition. In particular, the legislation would:
- Establish a new $100 million Workforce Development and Prosperity discretionary grant program, to be administered by the US Department of Education, office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). Programs funded under these grants would be implementing Integrated Education and Training approaches as recommended in NSC’s 2016 policy toolkit and our 2019 Roadmap for Racial Equity. Entities eligible for these grants would include state and local government, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations, including community-based organizations. Grantees would need to provide a 25% match in non-Federal funding or in-kind support.
- Establish a new $100 million English as a Gateway to Integration discretionary grant program. Grantees would engage in a range of activities, including preparing individuals to receive a high school diploma or equivalent, enter postsecondary education, improve their digital literacy skills and civic knowledge, and prepare for and secure employment. NSC called for similar investments in our 2013 recommendations on immigration reform legislation. Similar to the workforce grants, these would be awarded by OCTAE. Eligible entities would be the same as those indicated above, and there would be a similar 25% match requirement in non-Federal funds or in-kind support. Unlike the workforce grants, eligibility would be restricted to entities located in either one of the ten states with highest rate of foreign-born residents, or a state that has experienced a large increase in the population of immigrants during the past ten years.
- Create a federal Office of New Americans located in the White House. NSC called for this office in our 2013 recommendations. Staffing for the office would include a Deputy Director for Workforce and Economy, an important indicator of the value placed on skills policy issues by Congress.
- Establish a Federal Initiative on New Americans that would bring together cabinet-level officials from a wide range of federal agencies. Among the issue areas to be tackled by this group would be English language learning, adult education and workforce training, postsecondary education, occupational licensure, and economic development. In 2015, NSC provided input to the White House Task Force on New Americans, a similar cross-agency group convened by the Obama administration.
Other aspects of the New Deal for New Americans legislation focus on a pilot program to promote integration at the state and local level through New Immigrant Councils; legal services; the lessening of barriers to US citizenship; refugee resettlement; and voting rights.
Moving from a hands-off to a hands-on federal approach
Because US immigration policy has historically focused on immigrant admissions, the federal government has had a relatively hands-off approach to how best to incorporate immigrants into the American fabric after they arrive. Almost no federal funding is specifically dedicated to immigrant services. The primary exception is refugee resettlement, which receives modest support through the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. However, refugees comprise a very small portion (between 2-7%) of new arrivals to the U.S. each year.
Federal support is also provided indirectly to immigrants via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II. Approximately 600,000 of the 1.5 million adults served under Title II are enrolled in English language classes.
The new bill represents a welcome sea change in how federal legislators are thinking and talking about immigration. Numerous NSC member organizations and allies have helped bring about this shift, including the state immigrant-rights coalitions that comprise the National Partnership for New Americans, such as the MIRA Coalition. NSC helped inform the development of NPNA’s New American Dreams policy platform, which in turn informed the new federal legislation.