Immigrant Assimilation Critical, Report Finds

Stephen Wall, San Bernardino Sun, December 28, 2008

As the United States becomes more diverse, a greater effort must be made to integrate immigrants into American society, according to a new report by a federal task force.

The steady rise in the foreign-born population and shifting demographic patterns make it essential for the country to embark on a renewed “Americanization” movement to preserve social unity, the report states.

President Bush created The Task Force on New Americans in 2006. The task force, which included members from 20 federal agencies, delivered the report to Bush this month. The 67-page document provides recommendations to strengthen immigrant-integration efforts across the United States.

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The report, “Building an Americanization Movement for the 21st Century,” recommends enhanced English language education for immigrant adults, including a focus on electronic learning and distance learning.

It also calls on the federal government to work more closely with the private sector and community-based organizations to promote language and civics programs.

The need for increased assimilation efforts has become stronger because of the rapid growth in the immigrant population over the past 40 years, according to the report.

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The rapid demographic change and new settlement patterns could be troubling developments unless there are successful efforts to incorporate immigrants into American political and civic life, the report says.

“The risk of marginalized or fragmented enclaves can create social tension in the short term and may ultimately threaten to undermine the very fabric of values and principles that unite all Americans,” according to the report.

Elsa Valdez, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, doesn’t agree that immigrant enclaves pose a threat to the American way of life.

“It’s total nonsense,” Valdez said. “We have had immigrants coming for over 200 years. America as a country has never become Balkanized, and we haven’t had a civil war with different groups fighting each other. The only reason you have enclaves or segregated communities is we haven’t done a very good job integrating the different immigrant groups economically and socially in terms of jobs, health care and education.”

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But others are concerned that too much illegal immigration is making it harder to integrate people of diverse backgrounds.

“People who come here need to be assimilated into the American mainstream,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “If we are going to successfully bring this huge cohort of immigrants into the mainstream, it has to be a cooperative effort on both sides. One of the things we’ve seen for a long time is the assimilation process is hindered by continuing high levels of immigration.”

Armando Navarro, an ethnic-studies professor at UC Riverside, views the demographic transformation as a positive. President-elect Barack Obama, whose mother was white and father was black, is an impressive example of how far this country has evolved as a culturally and ethnically diverse society, he said.

“Today, many Americans are multicultural in their lifestyle,” Navarro said. “They go to an Italian restaurant one week and a Mexican restaurant the next. One night they’re listening to mariachi music and the next night they are embracing hip-hop. This says something for what this country is all about.”

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[Editor’s Note: “Building an Americanization Movement for the 21st Century,” from the Task Force on New Americans can be read as an HTML document here. It can be read or downloaded as a PDF document here.]

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