A Somali refugee learns U.S. agricultural practices and sells organic produce to a local San Diego restaurant. Hispanic immigrant entrepreneurs flourish and revitalize a Kansas City business district that even nearby residents once avoided. And a young nurse from India is hired at a hospital in suburban Washington, D.C. after getting her foreign professional credentials accepted in the United States.

 Across the nation, immigrants are making the transition into their new American lives – and through their contributions bringing new vitality and economic, civic and cultural value to their communities and their adopted homeland. The success of immigration ultimately turns on an issue that lies well outside the national spotlight: immigrant integration and the quality of the integration programs that help immigrants succeed and weave them into the fabric of communities across the United States.

While the United States has become home to immigrants from across the globe since its founding, creating a diverse, culturally rich society – seemingly with little effort – the reality is that there are thousands of immigrant integration initiatives that daily and with little fanfare are helping immigrants find their footing and become full partners in creating the vibrant civic and economic life of our country.

With the powerful fuel of the hopes, dreams and hard work of immigrants and their children, and support from English language and citizenship education courses, job training and youth development classes, refugee resettlement services and more, immigrant integration is happening on a record scale.

Today, the White House is spotlighting the crucial importance of immigrant integration efforts to our country’s future, honoring as “Champions of Change” the four winners of the Migration Policy Institute’s 2011 E Pluribus Unum Prizes that were awarded earlier this month at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

This year’s awardees represent some of the great breadth and scope of immigrant integration efforts in the U.S.:

-- The Hispanic Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City offers bilingual and bicultural business development training and a small-business incubator program to help immigrant entrepreneurs launch businesses and revitalize languishing areas of the city.

-- The International Rescue Committee in San Diego offers a range of refugee resettlement programs that include adult and youth education, career services, English and citizenship instruction, financial literacy courses and even urban farming opportunities.

-- Temple University’s Project SHINE matches college students with elderly immigrants, helping them learn English and pass their naturalization exams. The initiative is now active in nine states: California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

-- San Francisco-based Welcome Back Initiative is a national program (with centers in Boston, Denver, New York, Providence (RI), San Diego, San Antonio, the Seattle area and suburban Washington, D.C.) that works with internationally trained nurses, physicians, dentists and other health professionals to validate their credentials and return them to the health care profession at their skill levels.

As part of its Champions of Change effort, the White House invited our Prize winners to meet with high-ranking administration officials to discuss their work and the challenges and opportunities they see on the horizon.

At the May 19th meeting, the President’s Domestic Policy Council staff described their efforts this past year in creating an interagency task force on immigrant integration, which is charting a course for surfacing and addressing integration concerns at the federal, state and local levels.

That’s a great first step. We hope the administration will go further in the coming months and create a White House Office on Immigrant Integration Policy, with a clear mandate to convene and referee debates about integration needs and approaches that typically happen in isolation (if they happen at all) in the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Labor, just to name a few.

Stronger national coordination would allow the federal government to begin to think and act systematically to address this crucial area of policy and programming that has been an afterthought for too long.

The bedrock principle of immigrant integration – and more broadly the U.S. ideals that have echoed throughout history – is captured in the name of our awards program: E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one. The White House is using its bully pulpit this week to affirm this principle and to underscore the shared destiny of today’s immigrants and their children and that of all Americans – “their” success or failure is ours as well.

The White House’s heralding of integration issues and initiatives is a significant breakthrough for the millions of immigrants and Americans who understand the importance of upholding and taking steps to achieve this important societal goal. However, as the work of our Prize winners and others makes plain, the integration of immigrants and their children requires a two-way effort on the part of immigrants and our larger society. May this very public embrace of integration issues become but a promising beginning for sustained efforts at the federal level to ensure that E Pluribus Unum is in fact a modern reality, rather than just a historic ideal.


Margie McHugh and Michael Fix are co-directors of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). MPI is an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C., dedicated to the analysis of immigration trends and policies in the United States and worldwide. For more information, visit www.migrationpolicy.org. For more on the E Pluribus Unum Prizes, visit www.integrationawards.org.