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International study points out U.S. immigration policy successes, failures

The United States ranks ninth out of 31 countries in an international study evaluating immigrant integration policies released this week. #

The Migrant Integration Policy Index (aka MIPEX), produced by the British Council and the Migration Policy Group, evaluates seven areas: labor market mobility, family reunion, education, political participation, long-term residence, access to nationality and anti-discrimination measures in all European Union member states plus Norway, Switzerland, Canada and for the first time the U.S. #

The Immigration Policy Center, the research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council, served as a U.S partner for the study, and helped answer questions and gather information from various American experts. #

The study indicates that strong U.S. anti-discrimination laws protect immigrants and guarantee them equal rights and opportunities, a model for immigration rules elsewhere. #

Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, told The Florida Independent that the U.S invests very little in immigrant integration and that budget cuts at the state and federal level put the country’s positive ranking at risk. She added that policymakers need to know that helping people to integrate and learn English provides a large return on investment. #

Giovagnoli explained that the MIPEX study can help guide best practices, so the U.S. can learn from other countries like Canada that have a thoughtful integration policy, and help other countries learn from areas where the U.S. shows positive advances. #

According to the study, U.S legal status gives most migrant workers and their families some of the same chances in the labor market as native-born Americans, but immigrants often take jobs far below their skill level. #

The report also states that all students, regardless of status, have access to public education but “undocumented students have no clear legal path to college, nor in-state tuition in 39 states.” #

According to the MIPEX, everybody in the U.S. receives basic political freedoms, but until they naturalize, immigrants do not have formal political rights. The study pointed to state programs, like in Illinois, that seek to increase immigrant integration. It also highlighted that legal resident status is fragile. #

The index finds that long-term immigrants with legal status have good opportunities to live with their families and find a job, but not as solid as those Americans enjoy. Conditions in law are not unfavorable, but since 1996, for example, many permanent legal residents cannot use federal benefits — a situation not remedied in the final 2010 health care reform law. #

The study also states that the U.S. slightly encourages newcomers to become citizens in order to fully participate in American public life. Still, the path to citizenship, even for legal immigrants, costs a lot of money and the American naturalization procedure remains backlogged without any legal time limits. #

Giovagnoli explained that in the aftermath of the 2010 push for immigration enforcement laws like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 there hasn’t been a seismic shift in law. She highlighted state efforts to increase enforcement laws but indicated that it isn’t sure they will pass. #

She also said MIPEX is useful, but that it isn’t going to tell us everything we need to know about how to deal with undocumented folks. #

She said we might see “a drop in anti-discrimination and equal rights law” as well as “a drop in our education ranking.” #

“The areas we do well in are under attack,” she said, ”and we need to protect them.” #

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