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America’s Promise on Full Display at National Immigrant Integration Conference

The WES team at the 2019 National Immigrant Integration Conference in Detroit.


At the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Michigan America’s promise of prosperity and freedom for all was on full display.  

There may be no better place than Michigan to make the case for stronger policies to promote immigrant integration. The state has a robust “Office of Global Michigan” dedicated to advancing opportunity for immigrants and refugees and, until recently, yearly welcomed a large number of new refugees.

Last month, Michigan was also the host of the 2019 National Immigrant Integration Conference or “NIIC”, organized by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). The convening is the nation’s largest immigrant integration conference, bringing together immigrant and refugee community members, policymakers, business leaders, service providers, academia, faith and labor leaders, and philanthropy.

Not surprisingly, a primary focus of this year’s conference was on how to respond to the hostile national climate immigrants and refugees currently face. (October was the first month in the history of our nation’s refugee resettlement program that not a single refugee was resettled in the U.S.) The Trump administration has proposed capping the number of refugees allowed into the country each year to 18,000 – the lowest in the program’s history. The proposal would also allow states and cities to refuse to resettle refugees.

Alongside these serious challenges, however, the NIIC featured stories of recent victories as well as some important opportunities ahead. In a sign of the growing recognition of the importance of addressing the needs of immigrants and refugees who arrive in the U.S. with skills and training, WES CEO and executive director Esther Benjamin was invited to speak at the closing plenary at the NIIC. Benjamin highlighted the innovative work and new partnerships happening in states and localities around the country to remove barriers to employment and economic integration for immigrants and refugees.

In the days following this year’s NIIC, on October 30, H.R. 4928, the New Deal for New Americans Act, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Grace Meng (NY), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL), and Pramila Jayapal (WA). The measure builds upon NPNA’s “New American Dreams” national policy platform and offers solutions to many of the immigrant integration challenges the U.S. faces. The bill would expand access to citizenship, promote immigrants’ economic integration, and invest in legal services for immigrants and refugees. The measure also seeks to create a National Office of New Americans and set an annual minimum admissions number of 110,000 for refugee resettlement.

H.R. 4928 is part of a growing chorus of opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including recent efforts to cut refugee resettlement. The day before the bill’s introduction, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by former Michigan Governor Rick Snydey highlighting the benefits that refugees brought to Michigan during his time as governor and urging states to embrace refugee resettlement. A bipartisan group of governors from Michigan, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah has already publicly committed to resettle refugees in their states.

Our leaders in Washington, D.C. should follow the lead of Michigan and other states and unite in their support for the immense contributions of refugees and immigrants to this country. Endorsing H.R. 4928—with its vision of inclusion and opportunity for all Americans—would be a good start.

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