New Citizen Schools and Accelerated Assimilation Benefits:
Utilizing Immigration to Spur Short- and Long-term Economic Growth
by Lawrence E. McCullough, Ph.D
© 2016 Lawrence E. McCullough
IN THE ONGOING public debate about the best ways to assimilate newcomers to the United States, some politicians talk as if trans-national immigration is a freak weather system that will eventually drift off and bother someplace else.
That’s not going to happen, nor would it be to the nation’s benefit if it did.
Currently, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey, there are just over 43 million foreign-born residents in the United States accounting for 13.4% of the total U.S. population and 16.5% of the labor force.
Unauthorized immigrants are estimated to make up 26% of the nation’s foreign-born population, about 3.5% of the entire U.S. population and 5% of overall U.S. workers or those seeking employment.
And those numbers are likely to continue to grow, no matter how many tough-sounding election-year laws are proposed to wall off borders or pat down strolling bystanders.
The fundamental immigration problem America needs to solve is not how to keep people out … but how to more successfully and rapidly integrate them when they arrive.
Numerous studies cite the significant role immigrants play in boosting the U.S. economy: immigrant-owned small businesses employ an estimated 4.7 million workers, generating over $776 billion in annual revenue; in the last 20 years, immigrants have initiated 25% of public U.S. companies backed by venture capital investors; more than 40% of current Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, including Google, eBay, Yahoo! and Sun Microsystems.
Immigration — legal as well as illegal — affects every aspect of life in every corner of the U.S. It is imperative for our national security and economic development that we make it work to our advantage.
We can begin by bolstering two current strategies proven to accelerate immigrant integration: newcomer schools for youth and expanded citizenship classes for adults.
Since the 1980s many public school districts have offered voluntary special programs called “newcomer schools” that provide intensive education designed to help newly-arrived students transition into the mainstream education system and general American life. Courses consist of English instruction, practical skills training and cultural literacy and are available for grades K-12. Though newcomer schools are sometimes organized as charter schools, they are not intended to supplant public school education but enhance it.
For adults, thousands of citizenship classes are found across the country in a myriad of venues ranging from public libraries and schools to churches, community centers and private non-profit groups. Their curricula concentrate on preparing immigrants for the U.S. Citizenship Test.
Why not streamline the assimilation process by combining these two disparate endeavors into a coordinated nationwide network of “New Citizen Schools” to provide immigrants of any age with the basic information they need to become more productive Americans more quickly?
New Citizen Schools could be housed within the existing educational structure of the nearly 1,200 community colleges nationwide that already offer quality ESL classes and job training programs as well as an ethnically diverse student body. The NCS program would be open to youth and adults, with students organized by age level and English-language facility.
Funding would come from a base of federal, state and county education budget allotments supplemented by contributions from private foundations and American businesses and their affiliated trade associations that profit from a large employment of immigrant labor, be it blue- or white-collar, high-tech or agriculture.
The New Citizens Schools would also work closely with a revamped Guest Worker Program offering immigrants what the GWP does not offer now: genuine access to education and economic mobility and legal oversight to prevent abuses by employers or criminals.
America must secure our borders and citizenry. But more and higher fences are not the answer.
The New Citizen Schools would lay the groundwork for the only real security: transforming immigrants into citizens who embrace the core values of the American social idea while providing genuine opportunity to attain the American economic dream.
Those who complain about the cost of putting into place an expanded, focused framework of assimilation programs should consider what it will cost if we don’t have them.
The chief capital assets of a 21st-century economy are its people. America must have workers who are educated, skilled, healthy and — most importantly — emotionally committed to serving the national interest … workers motivated to add net value to the social and political system they share with millions of others.
Top-performing economies of the future will depend not just on raw labor but on the inspired, inventive business visioning of workers and entrepreneurs seeking better ways to accomplish more in a constantly evolving global marketplace.
The foundation for 19th- and 20th-century American economic growth was forged by a massive combination of private/public investment in education, industry and transportation.
In the decades to come, a similar scale of concentrated planning and investment should be applied toward integrating the immigrant worker who embodies the nation’s most adaptable and promising economic resource.
 2015 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau
 Pew Research Center
 Fiscal Policy Institute
 National Venture Capital Association
 Partnership for a New American Economy
— Lawrence E. McCullough writes on social issues that affect the people who do most of the working and paying, living and dying, beauty-spinning and wonder-making in our world. More at http://lawrencemccullough.blogspot.com/