Closing the Equity Gap

“We must close the equity gap for immigrants, refugees, returning citizens, and all adults with disabilities.” – Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier

Rigoberto Alvarado left El Salvador in 1991 in search of a better life in the United States. He needed English and a job. With the help of friends and family, he found an English class at the Neighborhood Centers’ Oakland Adult and Career Education. He started learning English. He found a job he liked in the hospitality industry. But he quickly realized he needed more skills in order to advance, so he returned to Neighborhood Centers to learn about computers and computer applications. Through hard work and dedication to his education, Rigoberto advanced through the ranks to become banquet manager at the Waterfront Hotel in Jack London Square. He now hires and supervises many employees, manages costs and inventories, and strives to create a positive employee work environment. Rigoberto put himself on the path to the middle class.

As Rigoberto’s experience indicates, employment-focused literacy and numeracy, as well as job skills are critical to the prosperity and well-being of individuals. One third of the 36 million adults with low skills in our country are immigrants or refugees like Rigoberto but they have not yet had the opportunities he has had. Our current programs can only offer English language learning opportunities to about 678,000 adult English learners per year. Unless we create additional opportunities for them, these twelve million adults will have a harder time finding a well-paying job than their higher skilled peers.

Making Skills Everyone’s Business – which was released on February 24 – makes a commitment to closing the equity gap for immigrants and refugees and other adults with multiple barriers including adults with disabilities, returning citizens, homeless adults, and emancipated youth transitioning out of the foster care system. Closing the equity gap is one of the seven strategies included in this national call to transform adult learning.

Data from the Survey of Adult Skills support this strategy. For instance, adults with learning disabilities are twice as likely to have low skills but few programs are equipped to meet these adult learners’ unique needs. Twenty-six percent of adults at Level 1 and 9 percent of those below Level 1 reported a learning disability. The figure below, Figure 9 in the Making Skills Everyone’s Business report, demonstrates the challenge.

This chart shows that 8 percent of U.S. adults ages 16–65 answered yes to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability; 92 percent answered no. Of those who answered yes, 35 percent had low literacy skills; that is, they scored below Level 2. Of those who answered no, 17 percent had low literacy skills.

Percentage of U.S. adults ages 16–65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by their responses to a question about whether they have ever been diagnosed or identified as having a learning disability

One subpopulation that requires our attention and commitment are older youth and adults in our correctional facilities. Data on the skills of the incarcerated and on returning citizens are forthcoming, as the National Center for Educations Statistics is completing data collection on a representative sample of institutionalized individuals. Conclusive data are available, however, that show that career-oriented education is one of the more effective interventions that contribute to significant reductions in recidivism according to a recent meta-analysis, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education, conducted by the Rand Corporation. OCTAE’s expanding investments in adult and youth reentry education programs and the expanded provisions for corrections education in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act are just the beginning. We need to work directly with employers to create pathways from prison to good jobs.

Partnerships with employers, employment and training agencies, agencies that can support wrap around support services, and integrated education and training programs that simultaneously provide skills remediation and postsecondary education and training are doable and can create real opportunities. But these partnerships and services demand more resources. In addition to demanding resources, we should have the political will to create more opportunities.

When I traveled all across the country gathering input for Making Skills Everyone’s Business, adult learners told me repeatedly that they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their skills. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Guest Author: Dr. Brenda Dann-Messier is the former Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Dann-Messier launched the national engagement process that resulted in Making Skills Everyone’s Business.

USCIS Listening Sessions on New Americans Announced

The President’s Task Force on New Americans and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invite you to participate in three listening sessions to discuss federal strategies to strengthen the economic, linguistic, and civic integration of new Americans. Three sessions are planned:

  • Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)
  • Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern)

On Nov. 21, 2014, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum establishing a White House Task Force on New Americans, an interagency effort to develop a coordinated federal strategy to better integrate new Americans into communities. Read more about the Task Force and the call for feedback.

During these listening sessions, Task Force members, including OCTAE leaders, and USCIS officials will provide an overview of the Task Force on New Americans and seek your feedback on best practices or strategies for successfully integrating immigrants and refugees into local communities.

To register for these sessions, please follow the steps below:

  • Visit the USCIS registration page to confirm your participation
    • Click here to register for the January 29th session focusing on receiving communities
    • Click here to register for the February 3rd session focusing on economic and linguistic integration
    • Click here to register for the February 5th session focusing on civic integration
  • Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  • Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  • Select the “Event Registration” tab
  • Provide your full name and organization
  • Complete the questions and select “Submit”

Once USCIS processes your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details. If you have any questions about the registration process, or if you do not receive a confirmation email within two business days, please email Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Note to the media: This engagement is not for press purposes. Please contact the USCIS Press Office at (202) 272-1200 for any media inquiries. If you have questions regarding the engagement or other stakeholder matters, please email Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov.

Call for Ideas to Help Shape Federal Immigrant and Refugee Integration Strategy

Contribute to this Call for Ideas from the White House Task Force on New Americans!  The goal of the Task Force is to develop a federal immigrant integration strategy that allows new Americans to contribute to society to their fullest potential and bring new Americans together with their receiving communities to strengthen communities.

OCTAE’s programs are often the first educational stop for many immigrant and refugee families. Our practitioners can inform the Task Force with real-life stories and examples of specific actions and supports that could help immigrants and refugees integrate into their communities and for their communities to welcome them. The Task Force needs to hear from you.

In a White House blog post, the Task Force posted this Call for Ideas to help shape the focus of the federal immigration and refugee integration strategy and created a specific email account, NewAmericans@who.eop.gov, for gathering stakeholder ideas.  Please send your ideas, big or small, to this email by February 9, 2015

 

Five Sites Selected for OCTAE’s Immigrant Integration Initiative

OCTAE, in partnership with World Education, Inc., was pleased to welcome the leadership teams from the five selected networks in the national initiative, “Networks for Integrating New Americans.”  Network leaders convened in Washington, DC on April 10th and 11th for the coordination of the project’s technical assistance.

Photo of leaders from five immigrant integration sites at initial convening

Leaders from five immigrant integration sites at initial convening

A highlight of their visit was a meeting with members of the White House Domestic Policy Council and other federal partners to discuss relevant federal programs and challenges the community sites face.

See the White House blog post for more information about the networks and the convening.

The five sites include:

  1. White Center Promise in King County, WA
  2. We Rhode Island Network in Metropolitan Providence, RI
  3. Lancaster Refugee Coalition in Lancaster City and County, PA
  4. Idaho Refugee Community Plan in Boise, ID
  5. Networks for Integrating New Americans of the Central Valley in Fresno, CA

(Front row from left to right) Cheryl Hiester, Karisa Tashjian, Susan Finn Miller, Sophie Tan, Jesus Martinez, Liset Caudillo, Susan Mann, Silja Kallenbach, Tara Wolfson, Lisa Cooper, Mina Amin, Laurie Bohm-Gibson, Andy Nash, Araceli Méndez.  (Back row from left to right) Tim Shenk, Gary Hobday, Kimberly Kohler, Brady Dunklee, Jennifer Brennan, Lisa Agao, Fern VanMaren, Steve Daschel, Madeleine Beaubien Taylor, Susan Downs-Karkos, Linda Faaren, Kien Lee, Kara Fink. (Not pictured: Eva Millona)

Building Strategic Partnerships for Immigrant and Refugee Integration

A number of communities at the local and state level have been forward thinking about the ways to incorporate and integrate immigrants into civic and economic life. These states and localities have recognized that creating a welcoming environment, coupled with policy and programmatic reforms that provide access to immigrants and English learners is a win for everyone in the community.

Cities like Atlanta, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Dayton, Philadelphia and Nashville to name a few, have developed strategies on various aspects of immigrant integration integral to the success of their cities. Many of these municipalities have created strategies to compete globally for talent and as well as in the arena of economic development. 

In New York City, the New York Department of Youth and Community Development has engaged in an intentional plan to create educational opportunities for youth that could qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The New York Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment recently came out with a study of Immigrants’ use of financial services.

County governments like Montgomery County, Maryland and Santa Clara and San Mateo in California have partnered with philanthropy and the federal government to rethink systems for improving service delivery and policies that benefit the entire community.

In New York State, the New York State Office of New Americans has taken the significant step of creating a system of 27 neighborhood based Opportunity Centers throughout the state. The initiative seeks to increase access to English-for-Speakers-of-other-Languages (ESOL) training, preparing New Americans for the naturalization process, connecting New Americans to business resources to harness their entrepreneurial spirit, developing and leveraging the professional skills of New Americans, and reducing exploitation of New Americans by scammers and con artists through consumer protection initiatives. Below is one story about how the Opportunity Centers are being utilized.

Omar Omar
Last year, Omar Omar came to Syracuse as a refugee. Originally from Eritrea, a small country in the horn of Africa, he was forced to flee everything he knew due to the war and internal conflicts.
The first thing Omar did when he resettled was to go to the ONA Opportunity Center in Onondaga County to work on his English. Hosted by partners Catholic Charities Diocese of Syracuse, the ONA Opportunity Center provides immigrants English-for-Speakers-of-Other-Languages (ESOL) training, naturalization and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) assistance, and entrepreneurial assistance. While Omar knew some English, he was seeking to improve his skills. Omar took advantage of the ONA Opportunity Centers unique blend of expert teachers, technology and volunteers in its ESOL training. Omar followed up his training by obtaining a library card so he could continue learning.
Omar was seeking a job, so he began working with the ONA Opportunity Center staff, asked for help from the volunteers, and applied for many jobs. When he found out that a new hotel was hiring, Omar asked an ONA Opportunity Center volunteer to help him with the on-line application, an application that took well over an hour to complete. Omar was given an interview and hired for a full time position in the housekeeping department. While Omar continues to study nursing, he must first obtain his high school equivalency diploma. Omar’s goal is to help people and he does so whether at the hotel, in the Eritrean community, his neighborhood, or ultimately in the health care field.

 

At the federal level, the Department of Education, the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, through a contract with World Education, Inc. and its three partner organizations (National Partnership for New Americans, IMPRINT, and Welcoming America) is identifying innovative immigrant integration models that will help us understand how adult education can 1) improve immigrants’ access to effective and innovative English language programs, 2) support immigrants on the path to citizenship, and 3) support immigrants’ career development through training and education. The project has  produced a descriptive framework on theoretically-sound immigrant integration practices. Place based initiatives will grow from this partnership in 2014 in several locations across the country that will benefit from the technical assistance on the creation of networks for immigrant integration.

These and other game changing initiatives take into consideration the circumstances of immigrant newcomers. As the debate on immigration reform continues at the federal level, states and localities are forging ahead, creating opportunities for immigrants to contribute and to help build their communities.

Johan Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education