MALDEF Strongly Supports Introduction of 'Strengthening Communities Through Education and Integration Act of 2008’

Immigrant integration essential for Latino progress

July 24, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, welcomed the introduction of the “Strengthening Communities through Education and Integration Act of 2008.” Introduced by U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Mike Honda (D-CA), and co-sponsored by U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), the Act invests resources in the education of English language learners of all ages and empowers communities to integrate newcomers. MALDEF, along with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), played a key role in drafting the legislation.

The number of English language learners (ELLs) in America’s public school system has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, and is expected to reach 25 percent of the public school population by 2025. As the U.S. workforce ages, the economy increasingly depends on recent arrivals. New immigrants represented at least two-thirds of the growth in the U.S. civilian labor force in the last three years, and experts project that, between 2010 and 2030, immigrants will account for all of the growth in the domestic labor market.

“The numbers show the problem,” stated Sam Jammal, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney. “In order for the United States to stay competitive, we need to put the necessary resources into educating our workforce. This legislation addresses the three-year waitlists for adult English language classes and the often forgotten English language learner community in our nation’s schools,” he added. “We all share a belief in stronger communities that make America more competitive in the world,” Senator Clinton said. “By investing in English language education, community support, and other important tools, this legislation will help new Americans become part of the American family.”

The Act supports English literacy education at all stages of life. Title I of the Act focuses on ELL children. It increases funding for the Department of Education’s successful Even Start.

Family Literacy Program and offers tax credits to ELL teachers to encourage focus on this important area. It also creates grants for English literacy and civics education programs and supports research for adult learning and literacy.

“As a country of immigrants we have always counted on newcomers to fuel our success,” said Rep. Honda. “For Sen. Clinton, for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, and for me, legislation of this type was only logical. We should embrace newcomers and provide them with the tools to succeed. If their success is America’s success, why not invest in it?”

Title II of the Act offers tax credits to employers who provide their workers with English literacy and GED training. Businesses can receive credits for 20 percent of the cost of the program, or up to $1,000 per employee.

“South Florida is a uniquely diverse region that is home to families with global heritages. The entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants continues to shape my community and our nation alike, and this act will certainly improve the tools families have at their disposal so that they can truly succeed and incorporate themselves into the fabric of the United States,” stated Rep. Ros-Lehtinen

“For centuries, the American Dream has called millions to our nation’s shores. Unfortunately, at present, the dream is fading for too many because they lack the skills needed to succeed in our country,” said Rep. Hinojosa. “This legislation opens up the doors to our immigrants so that they have the chance to fully participate in American life and thereby strengthen the fabric of our nation.”

Title III of the Act would create the Office of Citizenship and Immigrant Integration in the Department of Homeland Security. It also authorizes grants for the formation of State and Local New American Integration Councils consisting of leaders from the business, non-profit, religious, civic and philanthropic communities to develop and implement comprehensive integration plans for new immigrants in their areas.

“The USHCC is honored to have been a principal collaborator on such an important piece of legislation alongside other groups whose support has been and will be invaluable,” said David C. Lizárraga, USHCC Chairman. “As the contributions of non-English speakers in the workforce continue to multiply, it is essential that additional resources are invested to ensure a better trained and competent labor force.”

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund