Oscar Avila, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 13, 2006
A panel of state agencies wants to create ‘welcoming centers’ for immigrants, allowing them to apply for job training, health care and other services at one location.
The proposed state-funded centers would be based in suburbs and in Downstate towns with recent spikes in immigrants, according to the panel’s report being released Wednesday.
At the same time, another panel of researchers, activists and business leaders is recommending that the state provide more money for English classes for adults and dual-language programs that teach elementary school pupils, both immigrants and U.S.-born.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who commissioned the two panels, is endorsing the recommendations but has not yet committed any funding, a spokesman said.
Grace Hou, co-chair of the state agency panel and assistant secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, acknowledged that dwindling money in the state budget might make it difficult to secure expanded funding for immigrant integration.
But Hou and Juan Salgado, co-chair of the other panel and president of the nonprofit Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the spending is worth it if immigrants can secure higher-paying jobs and become full civic contributors.
“Like any asset, you can invest in the immigrant population and it has the potential of gaining more return. Or you don’t invest and it deteriorates,” said Salgado, also executive director of Instituto del Progreso Latino, a Chicago social-service agency.
For immigrants to become an asset, the panels reported, the state must help the newcomers obtain the English, government services and job skills they need to fully join society.
The language initiatives being proposed in Wednesday’s report would help create a bilingual workforce to compete globally, one of the reports argues.
Although the federal government regulates how immigrants enter the U.S., state and local governments have to deal with the effects. At least 11 states, including Illinois, have specific offices that help tailor services to immigrants and refugees.
About 1.7 million immigrants live in Illinois, half of whom have arrived since 1995, and the immigrant population is rising at a rate of 35,000 per year.