As I sat in a room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the grounds of the White House last Thursday, I couldn’t help but think: How did I get here? How did I come to be selected as a Champion of Change for my work with immigrant integration? To my left sat peers from New York, Phoenix, Kansas City, San Diego, San Francisco and Philadelphia, four of whom had been awarded an E Pluribus Unum prize just the day before; to my right sat Eskinder Negash, Director of ORR, Cecilia Munoz and Felicia Escobar from the White House Administration and Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of USCIS; and around the room sat various officials all of whom had an interest in what my peers and I had to say regarding immigrant integration.
As we began to listen to the reason for our being singled out, a sense of pride overwhelmed me. Our work was being recognized because of the innovative ways we are helping immigrants integrate in to life in the United States and it seemed that our opinions of immigrant integration mattered to those in attendance.
The Montgomery College Citizenship Program, funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant, developed a series of tasks, Enhanced Integration Tasks© (EIT) designed to make the students think beyond the naturalization interview and look at what it truly means to become a citizen of the United States. The E.I.T. makes students accountable for their own learning and integrates them into the community. Student reaction to the E.I.T. requirement has been extremely positive. The program has seen students volunteer in area soup kitchens, volunteer in stream cleanups, attend Town Hall meetings and attend P.T.A. meetings.
Inclusion of the Enhanced Integration Tasks© into the Citizenship Preparation Program has made the students look at their future role as a new citizen in a different light. Feedback has shown that whilst becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is a truly remarkable feat and a lifelong dream of many of the students in the program, requiring them to look at the future and how they will give back and integrate themselves and others, is of even greater significance.
Director Mayorkas spoke of the need for the Champions of Change for immigrant integration to work with and educate the community about immigrant integration. He spoke of an interagency approach to deepen the work that is already being done. We heard of the three pillars of integration: civic, linguistic and economic. My peers and I were asked for our thoughts regarding immigrant integration and many of our thoughts centered on the lack of funding, and the importance of the inclusion of the greater community. The need for recognition of organizations that have been deemed as examples of best practice, through support which shall enable them to grow and influence others should be, I feel, a criteria: We ask our immigrants to integrate, we ask our communities to support, and I believe we need to ask our governments to legislate and fund so that organizations can facilitate change and enable integration of immigrants: The Montgomery College Citizenship Preparation Program is thrilled to stand atop the pillars of integration, to open the door for future citizens of the United States and encourage them to step through and open a door for someone else.
Nancy Newton is the Program Director for the Montgomery College AEGL Program.