Building Capacity for ESL, Legal Services, and Citizenship

Jun 1, 2008
Provides a funders' guide to opportunities, strategies, and resources for promoting immigrants' civic integration by investing in a local infrastructure of services, including English instruction, legal services, and assistance with naturalization.
  • Map Community Needs and Resources - Having a solid understanding of the characteristics of immigrant populations -- from who they are and where they came from to their immigration status and how well they speak English -- is fundamental to any effort to promote immigrant integration. Equally important is assessing the broader community's perceptions of immigrants and identifying community resources and key stakeholders in the nonprofit, public, and private sectors that can contribute to the immigrant integration process. Information on the expertise, capacity, and interest of these stakeholders can help funders determine possible partners for a wide range of efforts to help newcomers become part of the social, economic, and civic fabric of their community.
  • Increase English Proficiency - English acquisition is central to reducing poverty, improving job opportunities among immigrants, and increasing civic participation. English proficiency is an important prerequisite to many civic engagement activities -- from passing the citizenship test to working with neighbors to address community concerns. It helps newcomers secure higher-paying jobs, better educational opportunities, and a brighter future for their children and family members. It also helps them navigate the challenges of living in the United States, including learning about and understanding U.S. customs and values. English acquisition allows immigrants to become more economically productive. It raises their income, increases their tax payments, and improves their capacity to address this country's increasing demand for skilled workers. When immigrants can communicate with their co-workers, children's teachers, neighbors, and government agencies, they are likely to be more self-sufficient and take a more active part in community life.
  • Pave the Path to Citizenship - Support for naturalization programs is a long-term investment with high rates of return and tangible lifelong benefits for individuals and communities. The immediate benefits include the security of citizenship and the right to vote, the ability to travel with a U.S. passport, sponsorship of relatives for immigration, and eligibility for public benefits unavailable to noncitizens. The range of employment opportunities also expands for citizens; in fact, naturalized citizens earn higher wages than those who are not. They also gain the opportunity to participate in the democratic process, particularly if naturalization assistance programs include elements that build the foundation for ongoing civic engagement. The act of naturalization demonstrates stronger community ties and often leads to a higher level of engagement.
  • Collaborate for Leverage, Influence,and Impact - funding collaboratives are central to increasing the availability of English instruction, legal services, and efforts to promote naturalization and civic participation. Such programmatic endeavors cannot be ramped up significantly through individual grants or philanthropic investment alone. Doing so requires deliberate planning and coordination. To this end, funding collaboratives can coordinate grantmaking and capacity-building strategies and position foundations to leverage both private and public dollars, engage multiple sectors, and play a much more visible leadership role. This approach can draw greater attention to the issues, increase the short- and long-term capacity of the field, and, ultimately, make a critical difference in expanding opportunities for immigrant integration."
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