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Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne

Immigrant outreach

Immigration | How communities and faith-based organizations are more effective than the federal government

WASHINGTON, D.C.-"The government can't pull your socks up," said Jedd Medefind, special assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, at Wednesday's Compassion in Action Roundtable on Immigration Assimilation and Success.

The hearing, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, showcased efforts in local communities-especially those of faith-based organizations-to reach out to immigrants, and to discuss what the country should do to help immigrants assimilate into American culture.

According to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, by 2025 over 14 percent of the U.S. population will be foreign born. Because of advances in transportation, many states not directly on U.S. borders are now considered gateway states, or states that initially receive foreign immigrants. In fact, 22 states-including such interior ones as Iowa-are considered gateways.

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Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the Office of Citizenship for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said strengthening efforts to integrate immigrants into our society is "fundamental to preserving our democracy." He added it would be naïve to "assume that assimilation will happen" without efforts from our communities.

Aguilar made it clear that "immigration assimilation has to work from the bottom up," because communities and faith-based organizations know how to do a better and more effective job than the federal government. He pointed out that immigrants often have found that "the point of entry" into the community is through the church.

Sherri Crawford, president of Project Light and one of the panelists at the hearing, often finds success working with faith-based organizations. Project Light is a non-profit organization that uses software, tutoring, and "community and faith-based learning centers" to help immigrants learn English. They also provide faith-based organizations with software they have developed to help them in their efforts to teach immigrants.

St. James Cathedral in Seattle also provides English tutoring assistance. Christopher Koehler, director of the English as a second language program at St. James, was also a panelist at the roundtable discussion. He said the goal of the St. James program is "not to provide a service, but to get someone their citizenship."

Medefind summarized the efforts of these groups by saying that a proper relationship between the federal government and faith-based organizations would "bring together the strength of the government and the touch and compassion of people."

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