Queens congresswoman introduces sweeping legislation to assist immigrants and refugees achieve naturalization

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Photos courtesy of Congresswoman Meng’s office

New immigrants to the United States face several challenges on their path to naturalization. But a Queens lawmaker recently introduced sweeping legislation that would help individuals to achieve the American dream.

Under Congresswoman Grace Meng’s “New Deal for New Americans Act,” immigrants and refugees would have critical assistance programs to help them overcome challenges like language barriers and employment attainment while helping to achieve naturalization.

Meng, along with fellow Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jesús “Chuy” García, came up with several provisions that would ensure a more inclusive and welcoming system for new Americans.

The following are the proposed provisions under the New Deal for New Americans Act:

  • Establishing a National Office of New Americans in the Executive Office of the White House. The office would promote and support immigrant and refugee integration and inclusion and coordinate government efforts on the federal, state and local levels.
  • Establishing a Federal Initiative on New Americans. This initiative would coordinate a federal response to address prevalent issues in the lives of new immigrants and refugees.
  • Creating a Legal Services and Immigration Assistance Grant Program to fund organizations that provide direct immigration services. The services include immigration screenings, know-your-rights education, applications for citizenship, lawful permanent resident status or other legal status, or seeking relief from a removal order.
  • Creating an English as a Gateway to Integration Program to organizations that teach English and help new Americans prepare for citizenship or GED.
  • Creating a Workforce Development Grant Program to establish access to education and workforce programs.
  • Reducing naturalization barriers by establishing a flat application fee for the naturalization exam, amending English and civics exam requirements for older adults and exempting eligible U.S. high school graduates from taking the exam altogether.
  • Limit the ability for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to raise fees without congressional approval and require appropriations authorizations to cover USCIS’ need to operate and adjudicate cases.
  • Automatic voter registration for newly naturalized individuals.
  • Reducing the age that citizens can petition eligible family members from 21 to 18.
  • Increasing the refugee admissions level to 110,000 per fiscal year.
  • Providing social, economic and civic support to refugees and help local communities rebuild in order to accommodate those seeking refuge.
  • Amend the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) so that it is not allowed to deport an individual who has become a public charge.
(L to R): Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, Gustavo Torres, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Eva Millona, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Steve Choi, Alain Nahimana and Basma Alawee.

“The New Deal for New Americans Act is a bold and sweeping effort to strengthen support for immigrants and refugees. It will break down barriers to help them succeed, and pave the way for their hopes and dreams to come true. Immigrants and refugees have always been America’s strength, and improving our system to welcome new Americans will ensure that our nation continues to thrive. I will always stand with the hardworking immigrants of this nation and I urge all my colleagues to do the same, and support this critical bill,” Meng said.

Nearly 100 organizations and individuals across the country have endorsed the New Deal for New Americans Act including the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), the New York Immigration Coalition, Make the Road and CASA.

“It’s time for a new vision for America—one that fulfills Lady Liberty’s promise, honors our values as a diverse and welcoming nation, and engenders solutions that allow new Americans to truly belong, fully contribute and achieve the American Dream,” said Steve Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition and NPNA board co-chair. “Today, we’re pleased to stand with our local Congresswoman Grace Meng and other Members of Congress to introduce a bill that offers exactly that opportunity—the ‘New Deal for New Americans Act.’ We call on each and every Member of Congress to support this bill and work to pass it into law.”