Commentary: A Year after Arizona's Debacle, Congress Considers a Better Immigration Law
By Mike Honda
and Karen Narasaki
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's signature authorized SB 1070 a year ago, imposing a set of harsh immigration enforcement laws that purportedly sought to reduce the state's undocumented immigrant population through officially sanctioned racial profiling.
Rather than alienating immigrants, our country now has the chance to pass positive legislation with the Strengthen and Unite Communities with Civics Education & English Development (SUCCEED) Act. If enacted, it would help immigrants integrate into American society.
The SUCCEED Act would provide for English language literacy instruction and lessons on U.S. history, civic participation, naturalization proceedings, and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. It would also provide critical technical assistance to states and localities, as well as grants for convening conversations among diverse stakeholders from the business, faith, civic, and philanthropic communities that in turn would help create immigrant integration programs.
The need for English language instruction is dire. The latest Census figures reveal that more than 12 percent of Americans--over 37 million of us--are foreign-born. Close to 55 million speak a language other than English at home. Furthermore, 8.6 percent of the population that speaks a language other than English at home reports their English speaking skills as "less than very good."
This bill is particularly important to the Asian-American community. One in three Asian Americans is considered "limited English proficient," One in four Asian-American households is "linguistically isolated." Over two-thirds of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community is foreign-born. More than 4.6 million of this group report speaking English "less than very well." The SUCCEED Act would fund programs that would enable immigrants to acquire the language skills and civic knowledge necessary to become fully active and engaged members of our society.
In a time of scarce resources, it makes more sense than ever to invest in education and integration of immigrants to maximize their contributions to our country. Such programs help newcomers raise their wages and work productivity, participate as citizens and voters, and fully use their skills to contribute to their communities.
Throughout our country's history, immigrants have built our infrastructure, fueled our economy through entrepreneurship, and made vital social and cultural contributions. Let's honor those contributions by passing the SUCCEED Act.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is the chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Karen K. Narasaki is the president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center and a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.