We are a nation of immigrants – it’s at the very core of our American values. Our success as a nation of immigrants is rooted in our historic success in integrating newcomers into the social, cultural, and economic fabric of our country. Last December, during a naturalization ceremony welcoming 31 new Americans, President Obama reminded us of this history:
We can never say it often or loudly enough: Immigrants and refugees revitalize and renew America…Immigrants are the teachers who inspire our children, and they’re the doctors who keep us healthy. They’re the engineers who design our skylines, and the artists and the entertainers who touch our hearts. Immigrants are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen who protect us, often risking their lives for an America that isn’t even their own yet…We celebrate this history, this heritage, as an immigrant nation.
In the spirit of these core American values, President Obama established the White House Task Force on New Americans to strengthen federal immigrant and refugee integration efforts and promote the best practices that state and local governments are using to help immigrants and their native-born neighbors succeed together. As Task Force co-chairs, we are heartened by what we have already achieved together with state and local governments as well as business, community, faith, and philanthropic leaders.
To build on these efforts, the Task Force is launching a series of White House Regional Convenings on New Americans – with the inaugural convening taking place in Los Angeles today. This will be the first in a number of events aimed at strengthening and supporting local immigrant and refugee integration efforts.
These convenings will be organized in partnership with Building Welcoming Communities Campaign cities and counties, local leaders, and federal agencies, and aim to: (1) Strengthen the federal regional infrastructure supporting welcoming and integration efforts; (2) Highlight best practices; and (3) Broaden and deepen multisector partnerships at the local level to advance civic, economic, and linguistic integration efforts.
Today’s initiative was highlighted as a key 2016 effort in the Task Force’s One-Year Progress Report, which was submitted to the President in December 2015. This report provided an update on the recommendations issued in the Task Force’s Strategic Action Plan in April 2015. It also builds on White House convenings held in Washington, DC in July 2014 and October 2015.
President Obama, along with the many Americans engaged in this effort, feels strongly that advancing the cherished American ideals of citizenship, and the pride and responsibility that comes with being a U.S. citizen, is central to our strength as a nation. These Regional Convenings will further the mission of the “Stand Stronger” Citizenship Awareness Campaign, an initiative launched last Fall that encourages eligible lawful permanent residents to learn more about the naturalization process so they can solidify their roots and tap into the incredible opportunities that await new American citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are approximately 13.3 million lawful permanent residents living in the United States, and 8.8 million of them are eligible to apply for citizenship. We know that becoming a naturalized citizen bring tangible and intangible benefits to each new American, to the communities in which they live, and to the rest of the country.
To address the barriers to becoming a citizen, USCIS also developed a series of initiatives to improve customer service, highlight the importance of citizenship, and support aspiring citizens. These initiatives include new online citizenship preparation resources, the ability to pay the naturalization fee with a credit card, a citizenship public education and awareness campaign, and new and ongoing outreach and engagement with local governments.
Immigrants and refugees contribute to our country’s social and cultural fabric. They are critical to our country’s continued prosperity. The Task Force will continue to do everything possible to welcome them into our nation and work with cities and counties to build welcoming communities where everyone can thrive.
For more information on the Task Force, visit https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/new-americans.
León Rodríguez is Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).