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Foundation focuses on local immigrant history

December 1st, 2015 by Romona Paden

13Colonies copyStarting with the settlement of Germans and Poles in the late 1800’s and extending to Hmong, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Filipino and other settlers through the 1990’s, a new nonprofit organization in southwest Missouri has dedicated itself to preserving its vibrant immigrant history. The Waldensian Foundation, an education and cultural organization, collects papers, photographs and digital media for preservation to make them available for research and education.

The small Missouri town of Monett, with the motto “Pride & Progress” is home to the Waldensian Foundation, which centers on the history of Barry County and Lawrence County. The term “Waldensian” generally refers to North and Western Europeans.

Mark McMeley, Waldensian historian and foundation president, told The Monett-Times that while personal papers, photographs and documents seldom have market value, the aggregate of these materials carry great significance to historians and others interested in the region’s history.

“Monett and Barry and Lawrence counties have a particularly rich heritage of foreign immigration, from the Germans, Poles, Italians, Swedes and others who settled the area in the 1800s to Hispanic, Somalis, Southeast Asians and others who have arrived in the past 20 or 30 years,” McMeley said.

With a new archive, the foundation works with a library at Missouri State University where materials are housed in a special collections and archive unit. The site offers security, technical expertise and environmental controls to ensure their care and availability for future generations.

Among the first donations to the archive collection, which formally kicked off in October, were a 1901 travel journal from a Waldensian immigrant, a 1917 ledger of money orders at a local post office and recent photographs of celebrations at the Hmong Community Center in Fairview, among other materials.

“It is very important to preserve our documents as the Hmong people,” Bouayang Vang, president of the Southwest Missouri Hmong Association, told the local paper. The Hmong population includes an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand “When the older generation is gone, people often think their papers are no longer important. But, the Waldensian collection will keep those documents in the university, and then future generations of all ethnicities can see who the Hmong are and where they came from.”

USCIS, Immigrants Push Citizenship Efforts

December 1st, 2015 by Romona Paden

Executive OrdersImmigration advocates are stepping up their fight to win a solid political voice with a renewed focus on encouraging legal permanent residents—green card holders—to gain citizenship status. In the effort, organizations in large cities across are developing events and information campaigns targeted to those immigrants who are eligible, but haven’t yet taken the plunge to naturalized citizenship.

A recent New York Times story attributes the movement as unfolding in two veins: “anti-immigrant sentiment soaring among Republican presidential candidates” as well as the stall on reform measures in Congress and in the courts.

The resulting push to motivate some 8.8 million immigrants who carry green cards to dive into the citizenship process before 2016 elections is the only proactive measure available to advocates. Over the summer, the paradigm translated to a concerted USCIS effort–the Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiativeto support large cities with their outreach to eligible immigrants.  Besides New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County and Atlanta are also a focus of the USCIS initiative.

USCIS support includes print ads, video public services announcement and also digital and radio spots. Besides English and Spanish, outreach includes materials in Chinese and Vietnamese. A second phase of the campaign, which will begin in September, will include additional print and digital media spots.

The end goal of the organizing effort is to tap the Latino demographic of the legal permanent resident population In the state. With this, activists aim at the 80 percent of naturalized Latino citizens cast their vote for President Obama in 2012, according to reported numbers from polling and research firm Polling Decisions. Presumably, this same bloc will vote a similar endorsement for the Democratic nominee.

In New York, the partnership plays out in the creation of “New Americans Corners” in all branches of the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library systems. The corners support permanent residents by offering citizenship and English as a Second Language classes, along with tools and resources to help them prepare for the naturalization interview and test.

In the announcement of the initiative, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We know that citizenship opens up opportunities – opportunities to vote, to get a better job, to feel more like a part of the community – and we want to support our immigrant friends and neighbors however we can.”

Practicing Civics in Espanol

December 1st, 2015 by Romona Paden

USCISIn its continuing effort to expand the toolset immigrants need to begin an upwardly-mobile journey in their adoptive homeland, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has launched an online Spanish-language civics practice test. The practice tests, developed as part of the Task Force on New Americans Initiatives, join the English version of the practice tests that launched earlier this year.

Civics testing is that part of the naturalization process that centers on immigrants’ knowledge of U.S. government and history.

The Spanish-language practice tests, which launched in November, present a series of civics questions in English with Spanish subtitles. The goal of the Spanish-language practice tests, according to a USCIS release, is to assist Hispanic green card holders with help in studying for the naturalization test with a focus on retaining information and gaining a firmer grasp of English.

Development of English-language skills is a critical aspect in moving forward toward naturalization as the civics test is normally given in English. During the civics testing phase of the naturalization interview, USCIS officers ask candidates up to 10 questions in English. Passing the test requires six of the 10 questions to be answered correctly in English.

On the Welcome to the Civics Practice Test! page, USCIS offers study tips. At the top of the list is that some of the answers can change from the practice test to the actual test. This is because the test includes information about elections and political appointments, the details of which are subject to change.

“As you study for the test, make sure that you know the most current answers to the questions,” the USCIS page reads. “Answer these questions with the name of the official who is serving at the time of your eligibility interview with USCIS. The USCIS officer will not accept an incorrect answer.”

Under certain conditions, some naturalization candidates are exempted from taking the civics test in English. Based on an immigrant applicant’s age and their time as a permanent resident, disability or other exception, the civics test can be taken in the language of choice.

Information on conditions that exempts applicants from taking the civics test in English is available on the USCIS Exceptions and Accommodations page.

Pew Breaks Down Mixed Views on Immigration

December 1st, 2015 by Romona Paden

Immigration Reform IssuesWith almost 60 million immigrants’ arrival to the United States in the last 50 years, a figure that pushes the country’s foreign-born share of population to a near-record 14 percent,  contemporary immigrants account for just over half the nation’s population growth, and they have reshaped its racial and ethnic composition. On this, Pew Research analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data and the research firm’s own population projections to quantify the impact of immigration as well as U.S. public attitudes toward immigration.

In its population projection through 2065, Pew explores immigration through a 100-year lens. The starting point was the “passage of the landmark law that rewrote U.S. immigration policy,” according to Pew’s release on the study. The “landmark law” is reference to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act wherein the standing national quota system of the time, which favored European immigrants, was replaced with an emphasis on family reunification and skilled workers.

Immigrants to the United States over the last 50 years, in absolute numbers, exceed the great waves of European immigrants that dominated during the 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1840 to 1889, for example, 14.3 million immigrants came to the United States. Between 1890 and 1919, an additional 18.2 million immigrants arrived to the country. The majority of these 32.5 million foreign-born arrivals left Western and Southern European countries.

Since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, immigrant numbers from other parts of the world began to grow. Just over half of the immigrants who’ve arrived over the last 50 years come from Latin American countries. One-quarter of the immigrants are Asian.

According to Pew, the immigration impact is met with “mixed views” by the American public. Pew reports 45 percent of Americans say immigrants make U.S. society better in the long run, while 37 percent say they are making society worse.  Sixteen percent say immigration doesn’t have much effect of society.

The survey also reports that half of Americans want to see immigration reduced, and 82 percent of respondents say the U.S. immigration needs either a major overhaul, or it needs to be completely rebuilt.

Referring to the passage of the immigration law passed during the Johnson Administration, Pew reports, “relatively few anticipated the size or demographic impact of the post-1965 immigration flow.”


Immigrants CC naturalization fees

November 19th, 2015 by Romona Paden

With all the paperwork involved in the immigration process, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) moved to increase convenience earlier this fall with the acceptance of credit card payments. In September, immigrants applying for naturalized citizenship with Form N-400, Application for Naturalization can pay the $680 cost—the combined fee for the application and biometrics—with a number of major credit cards.

The N-400 application is the only form for which credit cards are accepted. Acceptable credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover. USCIS allows each of these, whether they’re the traditional cards issued by banks or a gift card with one of the brand’s logo that can be purchased in a retail checkout line.

Because the credit card convenience involves USCIS application filing, of course, taking advantage of the payment option requires a form—G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transaction. Additionally, only one credit card or gift card can be used in the transaction, and it must cover the entire fee. USCIS rejects all applications associated with declined cards.

It’s worth noting that the G-1450 used to pay fees with a credit card must include the signature of the credit card account holder.  USCIS doesn’t require the credit card owner and the naturalization applicant to be the same person. 

In cases involving the use of a credit card for multiple or combined applications USCIS requires submission of a separate Form G-1450 for each. As is the case with a single application, multiple and combined application fee payments made with a credit card must as well cover the full transaction fees.

USCIS also instructs users of the credit card payment method to destroy Form G-1450, which carries the credit card billing information. This, the agency advises, is critical whether the application is accepted or rejected.

In an e-mail correspondence with USCIS media relations, an official makes the point the credit card feature has been added as an enhancement to USCIS services and is the result of recommendations coming out of the White House Task Force on New Americans. The strategic action plan developed by the task force, co-chaired by Cecil Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Leon Rodriguez, USCIS director, is laid out in “Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents.”

Democratic Presidential Hopefuls United on Immigration

November 16th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Immigration ReformAs the Democratic presidential candidates came together last week at the Drake University campus in Iowa for their second debate, the rivals presented a united front on the key issue of immigration. The discussion stands in sharp contrast to Republican Party debates, which include candidates ranging from moderate reform measures to more extreme restrictions.

The Democratic debate, sponsored by the television network CBS, showcased candidates who clashed on a number of issues—including bank regulation, minimum wage and healthcare. However, when it came to the topic of immigration and providing a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, the candidates were all singing the same tune.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, for example, defended President Obama’s executive actions and admonished a federal court injunction to implement Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA.)

In her comments on the topic, Clinton said, “Let’s move toward what we should be doing as a nation and follow the values of our immigration history and begin to make it possible for them to come out of the shadows.

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, was more poetic in his comments on those immigrants who are stuck in the shadows. “Our symbol is the Statue of Liberty,” O’Malley said “It’s not a barbed wire fence.”

O’Malley ‘s comments were clearly designed to take aim at GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s adamant position on immigration. On this, the former governor called out Trump directly as an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker,” a line that carried one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

O’Malley’s ferocity on the immigration issues goes directly to “claim that mantle,” according to a Newsweek report. In doing so, the O’Malley campaign points out Clinton’s no-show status at an immigration forum in Las Vegas and also accuses her of “dodging questions” from immigration advocates.

Where Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic Socialist and Vermont Senator, the O’Malley camp accuses him of “falsely asserting that immigrants take our jobs or lower our wages.”

For his part, Sanders has a history of supporting a five-year sunset provision on guest worker visas and for increasing fees on highly-skilled worker visas, a position opposed by the business community, particularly the high-tech sector. The Vermont Senator, according to the Newsweek article, likewise continues to express concerns over the effect of immigration on American labor.

Veteran immigrants are U.S. tradition

November 13th, 2015 by Romona Paden

Military service and ImmigrationHonoring those who’ve served in the nation’s military, Veteran’s Day celebrations in the United States have long recognized immigrants as central to the armed forces. The day honors both past and present members of the U.S. military.

A federal agency is marking November 11 in a couple of different ways. United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS) introduced its Veterans Day Photo Project! The campaign gives current immigrant military members and immigrant veterans the opportunity to showcase their service through a photo-driven social media campaign. Hash tags #immigrantvet and #newUScitizen show vets with signs that state immigrant veterans’ military branch, the years served, the country of birth and the year of naturalization.

USCIS is also recognizing those veterans who’ve serviced in the military and then continued national service through employment with the agency. In its November 6 post on USCIS blog The Beacon, USCIS recognizes Ivan Gutierrez , USCIS program analyst and an agency field office in Los Angeles. Gutierrez  is also a U.S. Marine Corp. veteran.

Gutierrez began living in the United States at the age of 5 when he left his native Mexico with his parents. After graduating high school, Gutierrez served as a Marine from 2001 to 2005. During his stint, Gutierrez and his unit were deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. It was in this war zone that the Marine unit lost 19 of its soldiers.

Immigrants like Gutierrez have been a long-standing central component of the U.S. military. Here are some basic facts and figures:

  • The Philippines and Mexico are the two nations that supply the most foreign-born military personnel for the U.S.
  • Immigrants have been a part of the U.S. military going as far back as the Revolutionary War.
  • During the 1840’s, foreign-born people made up half of the U.S. military recruits.
  • Twenty percent of the Union Army was made up of immigrants during the Civil War.
  • Immigrant diversity works toward a multicultural military and the U.S. global aenda.
  • Ten percent fewer immigrant soldiers drop out of training than do citizen soldiers.
  • USCIS has naturalized nearly 40,000 armed service members since September 2001. The agency has also granted posthumous citizenship to more than 100 service members.

Immigrants crucial to NYC economy

November 9th, 2015 by Romona Paden

A symbol of immigration and freedomAccounting for 3.1 million of New York City’s population—the highest rate the city has seen in the last one hundred years—a new report from the state Controller’s office puts immigrant economic activity at $257 billion. The immigrant impact in New York has corresponds to a doubling of the population since 1970, which currently represents 37 percent of the population.

Immigrant economic activity includes the group’s representation in the city’s workforce. In 1990, 31 percent of New York workers were foreign-born. This is compared to the current 43 percent level of immigrant workforce representation. In raw numbers, this translates to nearly 1.9 million immigrants working in the city. Of these almost 300,000 are suburban commuters.

Financially speaking, immigrant workers in New York earned $115 billion in 2013. The figure accounted for one-third of total wages paid in the area. Much of these wages were earned in the construction industry, which leads the city in its share of immigrant workers.

Controller numbers reports 59 percent of construction jobs in New York go to foreign-born workers. Immigrants represent half of all workers in the personal services, hospitality, leisure, manufacturing, health care, transportation and utilities industries.

According to the report, the significant share of workforce representation in low-pay, low-skill jobs is only part of the picture of immigrant economics. The reports states immigrants are also well represented in high-pay positions like doctors, accountants, auditors and financial managers.

Interestingly, the report also points out the two-year period from 2007 to 2009 saw immigrant wages decrease by 12 percent. From 2010-2012, the wages “quickly rebounded” with a 16 percent increase.

The breakout of the numbers underscores the important economic role immigrants play in the city’s revitalization efforts.

“It’s a huge marker about the value of immigrants,” says Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Thomas DiNapoli, who heads the New York City Controller office, says the report shows immigrants and immigrant neighborhoods are at the top of the list of beneficiaries in terms of economic impact. “The workforce is becoming more diverse, and the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of immigrants are experiencing economic growth that far exceeds the citywide average,” DiNapoli said.

D.C.-Havana thaw heats up Cuban immigration

November 3rd, 2015 by Romona Paden

immigrationWarming relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments, which began this year with the restoration of diplomatic ties, could have a chilling effect of the favorable immigration policies enjoyed by nationals of the island nation. Additionally, between the well-beaten path through South and Central America into Mexico that has reached critical proportions, Florida lawmakers with strong Cuban immigrant ties walk back their support of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA.)

More than 27,000 Cubans have entered the United States via the Mexican border from Oct. 1, 2014 through Aug. 31, 2015. At the same time, more than 9,000 additional Cuban immigrants arrived at Miami International Airport without visas.

In 2013, new rules that eased strict exit visa requirements allowed Cubans to travel more freely and provided a “new way out for those who want to abandon the island,” according to a Miami Herald story. Besides fleeing the economic hardship of communism, immigrants’ trek to the United States is  hastened by a threat of CAA revocation. When CAA was adopted in 1966, most all Cubans who made it to U.S. soil were allowed to stay in the country.

The threat of CAA revocation—or at least amendment—means immigrants from the island are operating with a sense of urgency. Cuban nationals crossing into the United States from the southern border has reached a rate that has human rights activists Mexico calling the situation in that country a “migration crises.”

At the same time, investigative reports show Cuban nationals as recipients of U.S. taxpayer-backed benefits and then returning to Cuba before legally allowed. While Florida lawmakers who represent largely Cuban-American portions of the state have traditionally been among the strongest proponents of CAA, investigative reports of Cuban immigrants who seem interested only in gaming the system have event the most steadfast CAA advocates exploring limits and repercussions to tag onto the policy.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican identified as “one of the most stalwart defenders” of CAA acknowledges that those immigrants who quickly return to Cuba are “not in fear of persecution” and

U.S. population growth rooted in immigration

October 29th, 2015 by Romona Paden

DACA delayedWith a projected overall population of 441 million in 2065, immigrants and the children of immigrants are projected to be the primary drivers of growth in the U.S.  over the next 50 years. And while immigrants as drivers of growth has been the case for the last 50 years, a new study out from the Pew Research Center projects an even greater role for the foreign-born and their children in the next half-century.

According to the Pew study, released in late September, immigrants and the children of immigrants currently account for around one-fourth of the nation’s population. This demographic proportion will grow to one-third of the overall population by 2065. In its breakdown of the numbers, Pew projects 78 million of the overall population will be immigrants while 81 million people will be a child to U.S. immigrant parents.

In terms of specifics, Pew reports non-Hispanic whites will remain the largest racial ethnic group in the country though the segment will no longer comprise a majority of the population—dropping from a current 62 percent of the population to 46 percent. Where Hispanics are concerned, a segment that currently comprises 18 percent of the population, the group will grow to 24 percent of the population. The Asian portion of the population, which currently make up 6 percent of the population, will grow to 14 percent. Making up 12 percent of the population now, Pew projects blacks will comprise 13 percent of the overall population.

Immigrant-driven growth, combined with overall patterns, “could have implications in a variety of realms,” according to the Pew report. Among these implications is “changing the face of the electorate, raising education levels among the foreign-born population and altering the nation’s birth patterns.”

One critical point here is that second-generation Americans—comprised of those people who have at least one immigrant parent—are aging up. While around half of this segment is 19-years-old or older, the other half are under the age of 19. Compared to projected numbers for 2065, the median age of those born to an immigrant parent will be 36-years-old.

Currently, Asians account for 26 percent of the immigrant population while Hispanics account for 47 percent of the immigration population. In 2065, Pew projects Asians will comprise 38 percent of the total immigrant population whereas Hispanics will comprise only 31 percent of immigrants.

Particularly significant with the growth of the Asian immigrant population is a projected rise in the overall education level among the foreign-born population. Numbers in the Pew report, for example, put more than half of Asian immigrants—57 percent—as having completed college. Hispanic immigrants with a college education fall sharply below the Asian level as Pew reports only 13 percent of immigrants from Mexico have completed a college education. Those immigrants from Central or South American nations have a college completion rate of 28 percent.

Among other elements projected in the Pew report is a slowing of immigration currently. However, Pew reports that 18 percent of the general population in the United States will be made up of immigrants in 2065.

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