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Immigrant Integration Conference Addresses Struggles, Hopes

by Bianca Ciotti, published

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley welcomed a packed hall in Baltimore as the National Immigrant Integration Conference kicked off this weekend.

The NIIC is hosted by the National Partnership for New Americans and Casa de Maryland, and it is “the largest national convening of immigrant integration leaders and advocates from across the nation” according to the convention chairs.

Governor O’Malley praised the conference with a number of metaphors, including:

“The stars and stripes were sewn together by black and white hands, hands of bondage, hands of freedom, and I would submit to you that the common thread that held those stars and stripes together is the same common thread that holds us together now: and it is the thread of human dignity. It is the dignity of work, it is the dignity of a job, it is the dignity of every child’s home, and it is the dignity of every individual.”

He continued by reminding the audience of his administration's unwavering support of immigrant causes. Prior to his reelection in 2010, O’Malley established the Council for New Americans, which promotes full immigrant integration into the economic and civic life of Maryland.

Later, the governor addressed issues facing immigrants in Maryland and nationwide such as taxation of undocumented citizens, discrimination, and the strenuous citizenship process. He encouraged the audience to support the DREAM act, and explained its significance in educating future generations of Americans.

The DREAM Act was a recurring topic of conversation at the NIIC. The bipartisan bill seeks to provide education for the children of undocumented immigrants. The president expressed his support of the DREAM Act and the integration of immigrants into their local communities in a letter to attendees of the National Immigrant Integration Conference:

“We must continue providing those new to our shores with the support and resources they need to pursue the promise of our Nation. By doing so, we help ensure ours remains a country worthy of their journey- a country filled with opportunity for all people.”

Sunday, the conference hosted a panel featuring the Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas. Director Mayorkas described the progress and setbacks the USCIS has faced during his appointment thus far.

He presented a recent USCIS initiative that he hopes to soon establish nationally. In Los Angeles, USCIS has partnered with public libraries to create a special section in the library for immigrants which contains much of the information they need to begin the naturalization process. The director also announced the new motto of the USCIS: "We are USCIS. We are America."

Direct Mayorkas then explained the obstacles that the USCIS faces. For the past year, funding for the office was drastically cut. Services that were free in the past were funded entirely out of pocket this year, and the director does not believe that the USCIS can continue providing pro bono services for immigrants if its funding is not restored.

After the two plenary sessions, conference attendees were shuffled into specialized sessions of their choice. Education, government, health, and language initiatives were just a few of the wide variety of topics offered. Leaders educated attendees on how to create a grassroots organization to cater to immigrant needs and welfare. Caucuses convened at night to continue the in-depth conversations that were generated in the track sessions.

With the DREAM Act's sink-or-swim date around the corner, the conference buzzed with excitement over the opportunities coming to the immigrant community. One attendee said that after the oppression new Americans suffered in Arizona last year, the tone of this year's conference was notably more hopeful for the future than in the past.

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