U.S. needs to 'Americanize' immigrants, or
face trouble, federal task force says
Washington » The United States must embark on an aggressive effort to integrate immigrants, including teaching them English and U.S. history, a federal task force recommended Thursday.
If this "Americanization" fails, the nation could see major problems in 20 or 30 years, with foreign-born populations detached from the larger society and engaging in anti-social behavior, said Alfonso Aguilar, who heads the U.S. Office of Citizenship.
Aguilar compared the potential strife to what is occurring in some Western European countries where foreign-born populations do not feel part of the larger society and are not accepted by many as full citizens.
"We should not be naive and assume that the assimilation process is going to happen automatically," Aguilar said at a news conference.
The Task Force on New Americans recommends that the federal government take a leadership role in an "Americanization movement," but also says that states, local governments, nonprofit groups and the private sector should play a key part.
The report strongly emphasizes that immigrants must learn English in order to fully integrate into American society.
Aguilar said immigrants currently want to learn English but many cannot find classes.
He said the report is not recommending "an ugly, English-only approach," but "a friendly, pro-active literary effort."
The report does not specify how much money federal or state governments should use for adult English-language instruction, but does urge the development of Internet-based electronic learning tools for adults to learn English and civics.
The task force also recommends that every state create a "state integration counsel" comprised of state and local government officials, businesses, faith-based organizations, civic organizations, and nonprofit groups that work with immigrant communities.
It also calls for more U.S. history and civic instruction at all levels of schooling and urges American businesses to provide English-language instruction for their employees.
Aguilar said the widespread integration effort is needed because of the unique nature of current immigrants who are mostly from Latin America, Asia and Caribbean nations and are coming in large numbers. By 2025, about 14 percent of the nation will be foreign-born, he said.
In addition, current immigrants are venturing to new states - such as Georgia and North Carolina - and to suburban communities that are not accustomed to foreigners and have no integration infrastructure, Aguilar said.
The task force - which includes 12 cabinet-level departments and eight additional federal agencies - has been studying the issue for two years. It is part of a Bush administration effort to promote citizenship.
William Ramos, who heads the Washington office of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, praised the report for involving the entire community in the integration process and said it provides a good blueprint for the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
But Ramos also said that providing more money for English-language instruction and civics classes is key to help immigrants integrate.
"Funding for adult education has been decimated over the years," he said. "It's not that folks don't want to learn English or don't want to go through the naturalization process. . . . It's that the resources aren't there."