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Migration Policy Institute Launches New National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy
Press Release
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Migration Policy Institute Launches New National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Migration Policy Institute announced today the creation of its new National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy.  The Center will connect government agency administrators, researchers, community leaders, service providers, the media, and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities.

“Despite the fact that more than a million immigrants enter the United States each year, and more than one in five children in the United States is the child of an immigrant, immigrant integration is one of the most overlooked issues in U.S. public policy today,” said MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou.  “MPI has established this Center, which is the first of its kind, to build a more coherent and knowledge-driven field of individuals addressing these issues at the local and national levels.”

Michael Fix and Margie McHugh will co-direct the Center, which will provide policy research and design, leadership development and technical assistance, and an electronic resource center on U.S. immigrant integration issues.  Mr. Fix is the former director of the Urban Institute’s Immigration Studies Program and is now MPI’s Vice President and Director of Studies.  Ms. McHugh is the former Executive Director of The New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization for 150 groups in New York that has pioneered effective approaches on a variety of integration issues.

“Our Center will be a hub that helps build the knowledge and skills of individuals across the country who are being called upon to address the impact of immigrants in their communities,” said Ms. McHugh.  “The need to deepen our understanding of effective integration policy and practice will only grow as migration to new destination places continues, as the question of the legal status of 12 million unauthorized immigrants is addressed, and as concerns about the nation’s competitiveness become more urgent,” she said.

The launch also includes the release of an agenda-setting volume, Securing the Future: US Immigrant Integration Policy -- A Reader, in which top health, education and fiscal policy experts focus on trends in education, health, the workforce, citizenship, and the second generation.  The authors also explore issues raised by proposed reforms to the U.S. immigration system, including impact aid to states and health care coverage for the foreign born. (Please see below for highlights.)

“Taken together, the chapters in this book make clear that the laissez faire approach to immigrant integration that the nation has taken in the past simply leaves too much to chance,” said Michael Fix, the volume’s editor.  “As the debate over a legalization program begins to take shape, Congress must broaden its field of vision and address not just the numbers and categories of our immigration system, but the mechanisms that must be in place to ensure the success of immigrants and the cohesion of the communities where they settle,” Mr. Fix said.   

As part of the launch of the Center, MPI is also unveiling its electronic resource center , which provides online information and analysis across more than a dozen integration subfields, and a new, cutting-edge data tool that provides instant access to the most current demographic and social information on the foreign born in each state.  The electronic resource center provides “one-stop shopping” for individuals seeking information on integration topics ranging from proposed changes in the U.S. citizenship test and application fees to the performance of immigrant students in U.S. schools.  And, with the click of a button, the new state data tool allows users to see data such as the percent change in the foreign-born population in Georgia from 1990 to 2005, or the top countries of origin for the foreign born in California, based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2005 American Community Survey. 

In coming months, the electronic resource center will be built out to include more state-by-state research and analysis on key integration issues, and the state data tool will be expanded to include data on immigrant families’ language acquisition, workforce participation and income. The electronic resource center can be accessed through MPI’sWeb site.  The state data tool is one of many offered by the new MPI Data Hub.

Highlights from 
Securing the Future: US Immigrant Integration Policy - A Reader:

* Despite unprecedented high flows of immigrants into the United States, immigrant integration remains an afterthought and one of the most overlooked issues in U.S. policy.  There is no Office for Immigrant and Refugee Integration and integration issues played little role in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform in the last session of the Congress.

* Three broad demographic trends make the need to focus on integration clear. First, high numbers: Over half of new workers in the U.S. economy in the 1990s were immigrants. Second, the dispersal of immigrants to nontraditional receiving areas: The state with the fastest growth between 2000 and 2005 was South Carolina. Third, shifting legal status: The share of immigrants who are undocumented rose dramatically over the past decade, rising to almost 30 percent all U.S. immigrants.

* Three-quarters of children of immigrants are U.S. born and are citizens living with noncitizen parents in mixed-status families. Policymakers have often overlooked the complexity of these families.

*Targeted federal spending on immigrant integration policies has been low and directed primarily toward two small subpopulations: refugees and farm workers (most of whom are foreign born).

*One index of integration is the progress of the second generation. Here, despite worries that current flows are producing a “rainbow underclass,” the evidence suggests that all groups including Mexicans -- are making substantial generational progress. Still, children of Mexican immigrants lag on many indicators, most notably in college attendance and graduation -- worrying trends in an economy that increasingly rewards higher skills.

*There has been a sharp rise in the Limited-English-Proficient (LEP) student population. Nationwide, LEP student enrollment rose 65 percent between 1993/94 and 2003/04 while overall enrollment in schools rose only 10 percent. Not surprisingly, share increases were much steeper in “new growth” states.

*The data make clear that many recent immigrants and their children are outside the mainstream in terms of their access to health care. Fifty-six percent of low-income, noncitizen immigrants were uninsured in 2004, compared to 23 percent of low-income natives.

*There are a number of persisting myths about immigrants’ use of health care that have made careful policymaking more difficult. First, immigrants are not the primary reason the ranks of the uninsured are growing. Second, per-capita health expenditures on immigrants were less than half those of native citizens. Third, the migration patterns of immigrants during the 1990s indicate that they were driven by jobs, not the generosity of health and other benefit programs.

*One area where policy can make a difference is promoting the credentialing of immigrants arriving with technical and educational skills. Half of legal immigrants experience occupational downgrading in their first year in the United States. Noncitizen immigrants with college degrees are twice as likely to be low income as natives.

Elements of an integration agenda would include:

-- Taking a cautious approach to making temporary immigration (without a path to permanent status) a primary thrust of current immigration reform efforts;

-- Focusing on the gap in Mexican immigrants’ transition to higher education;

-- Focusing policymakers’ attention on “high LEP” schools that have been found to be disproportionately failing to meet standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act;

-- Understanding and better integrating programs and financing that flows through the adult education and workforce training systems so that they better meet the needs of both immigrants and employers; 

--   Expressly addressing the health care needs of legalizing and other immigrants in immigration reform legislation;

-- Designing a new National Office for Immigrant and Refugee Integration that builds on the experience of the Bush Administration’s recently formed Task Force on Immigrant Integration; and

-- Ensuring that an impact aid program that builds on the lessons of the 1986 law is incorporated into immigration reform.

More information about the volume, including the Table of Contents, is online here.