When the global economy was expanding, governments around the world could afford to invest in immigrant integration through language instruction, health care, primary education, and other efforts, even if the returns on such spending would not become evident for many years. But commitments to immigrant integration have proved hard to keep in some countries as governments reexamined their recession-battered budgets in 2009.
Spain and Ireland are two of the countries in Europe that grew most before the recession and have suffered the most since. Both also experienced rapid growth in their immigrant populations during the boom years.
Spain decided in late 2008 to encourage unemployed immigrants to go home (see Issue #3: Buyer's Remorse on Immigration Continues). It also needed to trim its 2009 budget, and the government in February chose to cut grants to local governments for immigrant integration. In the face of strong criticism, it restored these cuts in April.
However, in September, the Spanish government announced its 2010 budget would cut integration grants in half, from 200 million to 100 million euros (US$290 million to US$145 million). The government also plans to halve its support to nongovernmental organizations that provide humanitarian assistance to newly arrived immigrants (specifically to the Spanish Red Cross), from 6.72 million to 3.72 million euros (US$9.74 million to US$5.39 million).
The cutting in Ireland began in December 2008 when the government limited the number of language-support teachers to two per school starting in September 2009. It also reduced the budget for the fairly new Office of the Minister for Integration by 25 percent and withdrew all funding for a decade-old advisory body on racism.
On a case-by-case basis, Irish schools with large numbers of children needing English-language instruction have been able to retain to retain up to four language-support teachers this school year. Still, educators have called the cuts in language-support short-sighted and detrimental to long-term integration.
But Ireland's finances remain in the red, and further cuts to language support could happen if the government follows the recommendations in a government-commissioned report released in July. To save 21 million euros (US$30.5 million), the McCarthy report recommends laying off another 1,000 language-support teachers and closing the Office of the Minister for Integration (1.5 million euros or US$2.2 million).
In contrast, some other European countries have made new investments in immigrant integration this year.
France, for example, created a new scholarship fund for immigrant students/children who succeed in school. The scholarship provides 2,400 euros (US$3,500) per person per year. The number of scholarships is limited to 200 for the first year and will be followed by the creation of 200 new scholarships for the second and third years.
The United Kingdom in March 2009 announced its Migration Impact Fund, which will use 70 million pounds (US$109 million) over two years to help communities manage short-term immigration pressures. Non-European Union migrants will contribute with a levy. The fund has already made a few small-scale grants.
Although the UK government has not announced cuts to the impact fund or other integration measures, observers expect some cuts are likely after elections in May 2010.
In the United States, immigrant integration largely falls to state and local governments. California and Illinois — two of the main immigrant-destination states — and Massachusetts have made budget cuts that affect immigrants. All three of these states were among the most generous in funding immigrant integration before the recession, and remain so today.
Over the summer, Massachusetts sought to cut about 30,000 legal immigrants from the state's subsidized health insurance system. The savings for fiscal year 2010 would have amounted to about $130 million. But immigrant advocacy and universal health care groups fought the changes, and the legislature eventually restored $40 million for their coverage. Enrollment in a lower-cost health plan began for eligible immigrants in Boston on October 1 and has been gradually expanded across the state.
Similarly, California cut funding this summer for Healthy Families, a children's health insurance program for which legal-immigrant children are eligible. Coverage was restored in September for 600,000 low- and middle-income children.
Also, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his line-item veto to eliminate all funding for the Seasonal and Agricultural Migratory Workers and Expanded Access to Primary Care programs, directly affecting many uninsured immigrants and migrant workers.
In the United States, some of the state budget cuts — particularly in education — are not targeted toward immigrants but will affect large numbers of them nonetheless.
California cut funding for the University of California (UC) system by hundreds of millions of dollars in its 2008-2009 budget and again in 2009-2010. The regents of the UC system responded with a number of cost-saving measures, including a reduction in class offerings and salaries, but agreed in November to raise tuition 32 percent starting in summer 2010, prompting student protests across UC campuses.
The tuition increase will likely affect immigrants and children of immigrants. Research from UC Berkeley published in 2007 found that more than half the undergraduate students in the UC system have at least one immigrant parent and that just 54 percent spoke only English.
Illinois has the third-largest system of community colleges in the country. As in other states, community colleges in Illinois help integrate immigrants. In 2007, Latinos (both native and foreign born) made up 71 percent of the system's English-as-a-Second-Language students and 25 percent of its adult education enrollment.
Budget shortfalls, however, prompted the state government to cut funding for the Illinois Community College Board to $24.1 million for 2010 from $34.8 million in 2009. The federal government may be willing to help. Congress is considering a measure, the American Graduation Initiative, which would expand federal support for community college programs that blend basic skills instruction with occupational or vocational training courses.