What does immigrant “integration” look like?

Written by Mary Allain ’12

The NIIC conference has not only reaffirmed my belief in the importance of immigrant integration as an issue deserving national attention, it has further expanded my notion of what the term immigration integration actually entails. By this I mean that immigrant integration encompasses much more than improving our English Language Learner programs in our public schools, or providing voter ballots in Spanish. While these efforts are steps in the right direction, immigration integration means so much more. Immigrant integration means actively including immigrants into the community. Rather than expecting immigrants to assimilate into “our” culture, we must make room for new cultures. It must be a conscious effort; one with planning, direction and execution.

We are a nation of immigrants; our development and success has depended on the hard work and ideas brought to this country from immigrants. Rather than attack immigrants for invading our country and taking up our jobs, American should be welcoming immigrants. It is an indisputable fact that immigrants are strong contributors to economic growth, as tax payers, consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs, and they should be recognized as such.

This idea of welcoming immigrants was instilled in me during one of the
conference’s plenaries when a speaker spoke on the concept of immigrants being
“unwanted”. After indicating the economic value immigrants bring to the United
States, and how America could not sustain its economy without immigrant workers and consumers, one must take only a small step to recognize that immigrants are needed. And if immigrants are needed, then they must be wanted. And if immigrants are wanted, they should be welcomed.

How does this relate to research within “State of the State”? We need to address this issue head on. We need to ask questions about the extent to which Latinos feel isolated because of their race/ethnicity. Are immigrants afraid of getting reported by their neighbors and becoming victims of S-Comm? Do immigrants feel welcomed by their childrens’ schools? Do immigrants feel a need to hide or suppress their native culture? Are Latinos intentionally avoiding public spaces to keep a low profile and avoid anti-immigrant expression? Furthermore, we need to challenge our partner organizations and other organizations and ask them, what they are doing now to promote immigrant integration. Have neighborhood-based organizations reached out to get to know the immigrants personally and learn what they hope for in their neighborhood? What have local schools done to promote Latino parent attendance in PTA meetings? Are employers adequately informing their employees about their rights? These are the sorts of questions we need to be asking.

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