From Newcomers to Americans: An Integration Policy for a Nation of Immigrants


March 1, 2007

By Tomás R. Jiménez, Ph.D.

The United States long has been a nation of immigrants, but its policies are out of step with this reality. Public policies with regard to the foreign-born must go beyond regulating who is admitted and under what circumstances. The nation needs an immigrant-integration policy that effectively addresses the challenges and harnesses the opportunities created by today’s large immigrant population. It is not in the best interests of the United States to make integration a more difficult, uncertain, or lengthy process than it need be. Facilitating the successful and rapid integration of immigrants into U.S. society minimizes conflicts and tensions between newcomers and the native-born, and enables immigrants to more quickly secure better jobs, earn higher incomes, and thus more fully contribute to the U.S. economy.

Among the findings of this report:

  • Today’s newcomers are integrating into U.S. society in ways reminiscent of immigrants from previous eras, with the children and grandchildren of immigrants mastering English, improving their educational status, and joining the U.S. workforce.
  • According to the 2000 Census, 91.1 percent of the children and 97.0 percent of the grandchildren of Mexican immigrants spoke English well.
  • In 2004, the share of Mexican immigrants without a high-school diploma was 58.0 percent, but only 16.9 percent of their children lacked a diploma.
  • The federal government must take the lead in facilitating the integration of immigrants. But rather than dictate policy, the federal government should partner with state and local governments, NGOs, and the private sector in carrying out the business of integration.
  • The future prosperity of the United States depends on the success of today’s newcomers given that immigrants who have arrived in the United States since 1960 make up almost one in ten individuals in the country, while the children of these immigrants comprise more than 10 percent of the total population.
  • An active approach to integration is apparent in U.S. refugee policy. Refugees to the United States are greeted by an expansive web of government agencies and NGOs tasked with facilitating their integration into U.S. society.
  • Civic integration of immigrants is essential and must involve opportunities to participate in civil society that facilitate trustful relationships between immigrant newcomers and all facets of their receiving community, especially law enforcement, elected officials, and other civic leaders.

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