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Building a Stronger Democracy Through Immigrant Integration

Felicia Escobar, Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council, reflects on her experience at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Seattle, Washington.

Last week, I traveled to Seattle, WA to participate in a special gathering of over 750 leaders from across the country seeking to strengthen American communities and our democracy as a part of the National Immigrant Integration Conference.  My time at the conference was filled productive conversations about the dynamic, continual integration process that involves new immigrants themselves but also federal, state, and local government, schools and libraries, faith organizations among many others.

First, I participated in the opening plenary session, A Changing America: Developing a National Strategy for Immigration Integration. I was joined on the panel by Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and other noted researchers and national leaders for a lively discussion.  Together, we discussed our country’s changing demographics and the important work being done across the country to bring immigrants and their new communities together.

It also provided me with an opportunity to highlight the New Americans Citizenship and Integration Initiative, which has held more than a dozen roundtable discussions across the country this past summer, including in Kansas City, New York, Los Angeles, Dearborn, Atlanta, Seattle, Houston, Honolulu, and at the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Annual Consultation Conference. Director Mayorkas also noted the important work of the USCIS Office of Citizenship, and his efforts to make the naturalization process more accessible and to keep naturalization fees constant during the most recent fee study regulation.

A key pillar of the New Americans Citizenship and Integration Initiative is finding ways for new immigrants to fully utilize the skills they bring with them when they come to our country.  It was exciting to learn more about IMPRINT, a newly formed coalition of organizations that is seeking to streamline complex professional licensing and re-credentialing processes, and advocate for the adoption of policies and best practices that facilitate the rapid integration of these skilled workers.

My day ended just as inspiring as it started, at a special naturalization ceremony where conference participants welcomed new citizens from many countries.  As USCIS Director Mayorkas remarked, it was fitting that this naturalization ceremony took place on United Nations Day given the rich diversity of the naturalization candidates from around the world.

As President Obama has often said, the flow of immigrants has helped make our country stronger and more prosperous. As we continue the critical work of reforming our system, we must also look for ways to integrate newcomers to their new communities.  Doing so will not only allow them to thrive, it will also ensure that America remains the envy of the world.

Felicia Escobar is Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council.