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[COMMUNITY] Immigrants Becoming Americans

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  • madchinaman
    Making for easier assimilation Through a task force, a booklet and a website, the U.S. government is helping immigrants learn English and integrate into
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2008
      Making for easier assimilation
      Through a task force, a booklet and a website, the U.S. government is
      helping immigrants learn English and integrate into society.
      By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer


      "Becoming American doesn't mean giving up your culture. Being
      American is three things: learning English, learning our system of
      government and learning our history."


      In her heart, Sonia Galdamez is Salvadoran. She speaks Spanish at
      home and cooks Salvadoran food for her family.

      But since arriving in Los Angeles nearly two years ago, she has been
      sworn in as a U.S. citizen and is studying English at L.A. City

      Galdamez said she doesn't have to sacrifice her traditions, roots or
      language to become American.

      "But in this country, really, they speak English," she said. "If I
      want to find a good job, I have to learn it."

      Galdamez is a model for the federal government's massive assimilation
      campaign, which the Bush administration launched in 2006 and is
      continuing to expand. This spring, the government will offer a free
      Web-based English class to immigrants on its new site,

      Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship, said the
      goal is to help immigrants integrate into U.S. society, learn English
      and identify with common civic values and a shared sense of history.

      "We cannot become a country of enclaves -- that's a recipe for
      disaster," he said. "There has to be a sense of community, a
      solidarity. . . . In the end, it's about political and social

      In the past, such assimilation efforts have been undertaken by
      churches, libraries and community organizations. But the sheer number
      of immigrants, coupled with the migration patterns that have
      scattered them across the country, has prompted the federal
      government to get involved.

      Not everyone agrees that's a good idea. Some say that community
      groups are better equipped to lead integration efforts because they
      are on a grass-roots level and can tailor programs to particular
      immigrant communities. Others say that the U.S. should limit the
      number of legal immigrants it admits rather than spend taxpayer money
      on assimilation programs.

      "The current levels of immigration are about five times higher than
      our tradition," said Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations
      for NumbersUSA, an anti-illegal immigration group. "In our view, the
      best way to assure assimilation is to reduce the numbers. . . . That
      means more resources per capita for new immigrants coming in."

      Experts and groups on both sides of the immigration debate have
      praised the government's assimilation efforts because they can help
      bridge gaps and reduce tensions that occur between newly arrived
      immigrants and their communities.

      That in turn will help create a more unified society where newcomers
      are participating politically, economically and socially, said Tomás
      Jiménez, a sociology professor at UC San Diego. Jiménez stressed that
      over time, immigrants do learn English and assimilate on their own.
      They integrate by going to college, advancing in their careers,
      moving to different neighborhoods and marrying outside their ethnic
      groups, he said.

      Studies have shown that although Spanish is primarily spoken by first-
      generation immigrants, its use fades dramatically by the second and
      third generation.

      "Immigrant integration is not something that takes place because a
      group of people suddenly decide they want to integrate," Jiménez
      said. "It's a gradual process, and it happens because people are
      pursuing their economic interests."

      The new wave of integration programs are different from past efforts
      because officials are not pushing immigrants to give up their
      language or cultural traditions in order to learn English or embrace
      U.S. ideals, experts said.

      The program is designed for legal immigrants, but undocumented
      immigrants can access the website and take English classes. Jenks of
      NumbersUSA said government funds shouldn't be used to help illegal

      "Any time an illegal immigrant comes in contact with the U.S.
      government, the result should be deportation," she said.

      Over the last five years, Aguilar said, the United States has
      welcomed 5 million legal permanent residents and naturalized nearly 3
      million new citizens. The U.S. established a Task Force on New
      Americans, published a Guide for New Immigrants booklet in multiple
      languages and started the website to provide basic information about
      healthcare, education and volunteer opportunities for immigrants.

      The Office of Citizenship is holding regional training sessions for
      teachers and collaborating with community colleges, immigrant-rights
      groups and libraries to integrate immigrants and offer more civics
      and English courses. The task force also introduced a web-based
      training program last fall for teachers.

      Recently at L.A. City College, Aguilar taught a civics class to a few
      dozen immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Central America. After a
      brief discussion of the Bill of Rights and the three branches of
      government, he encouraged the students to volunteer in their
      communities and continue studying about the U.S.

      "You are showing the rest of the country that immigrants want to
      become American," he said. "Becoming American doesn't mean giving up
      your culture. Being American is three things: learning English,
      learning our system of government and learning our history."

      Besides the government's involvement, community groups and businesses
      are doing their part to encourage assimilation by offering classes
      and teaching new immigrants everyday skills.

      During Thanksgiving, the Los Angeles restaurant Guelaguetza taught
      Mexican immigrants how to prepare turkeys. But they added their own
      Oaxacan twist: mole sauce. The restaurant also donated 30 turkeys to
      poor families.

      "We were talking about assimilation, and one of the biggest American
      values is giving and donating," said Martha Ugarte, who handles
      special events for the restaurant.

      In North Hills, Aztlan cyber-cafe owner Edith Jose offers free
      weekend classes to immigrants who want to learn how to surf the Web,
      send e-mails and job-search online. Jose said computer skills are
      critical for immigrants to get ahead, in part because many
      applications are posted only online.

      "The Latino community is motivated to learn," said Luz Ruiz, who
      recently attended a session at the cafe. "We don't want to be at the
      bottom. We want to get ahead."

      Ruiz, an immigrant from Mexico, said she also wanted to take classes
      so she could save money by paying bills online and better monitor her
      children's Internet use.
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