Sen. Bennet visits Littleton Immigrant Resource Center

An article from Denver Post’s YouHub by Erin McCann:

“So whats the deal with this immigration bill?

That was one question of many that U.S. Senator Michael Bennet fielded from immigrants pursuing American citizenship during a visit to the Littleton Immigrant Resource Center on Tuesday morning. The immigrants, who hailed from places as far away as El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, China, Guatemala, Syria and many others, quizzed the Senator on everything from the Farm Bill to the prospects of the House passing an immigration reform bill, while showing him the exercises  such as Citizen Jeopardy and civics flashcards  they use to help study for their citizenship exams.

Bennet was visiting the Center to highlight the work it does to integrate immigrants into the community.

About a decade ago, Littleton leaders recognized shifting demographics  which included, among other things, an aging population and an uptick in foreign born residents  and decided to proactively ensure that newcomers to the city were able to set down roots and truly become part of the community.

We became concerned that if we didnt reach out to new people, we could end up divided as a we/they community, former Littleton Mayor, Susan Thornton, a founding member of the current program, said.

That effort created what is now known as the Littleton Immigrant Resources Center, an award-winning program that helps immigrants connect with resources, work towards citizenship, learn English, and contribute civically and economically to the Littleton community. This year alone the program has served more than 100 students from 30 different countries.

To do this, the Center facilitates one-on-one mentoring pairs  armed with a community volunteer cadre of roughly 80 residents  and offers small group classes for immigrants to learn English and study for their citizenship exam.

During his visit, Bennet saw this in action, meeting with mentoring pairs like Ming Lin and her tutor Evelyn Bowman. Ming came to the United States nearly three decades ago and started participating in the program when she learned about it recently through a friend at church.

I came for the classes, Ming said. Im very fortunate, very blessed to have a tutor like Evelyn, she continued.

Weve only been doing this about six weeks, but we just have so much fun, Evelyn said of her partnership with Ming.

Bennet also stepped into one of the Centers small group citizenship classes, where students were practicing their civics knowledge with a game of Citizen Jeopardy, answering questions as varied as what state the Statue of Liberty was located in to the role of the Federalist Papers in the nations founding.

Bennet was visiting the program to highlight the importance of integrating immigrants into American communities. When immigrants successfully integrate into American communities, they add greater economic and civic value to places they live, Bennet said.

“By helping new immigrants connect with their neighbors, understand our laws and history, and learn the important rights and responsibilities of being an American, we build stronger more unified communities, Bennet said.

As a member of the Gang of 8 that wrote the immigration overhaul bill that passed the Senate earlier this summer,  Bennet said he used the Littleton program, and similar efforts across the state, as national models for the integration provisions in the bill.

The immigration bill would create a competitive grant program to support such integration efforts by nonprofits and state and local governments. It would also expand the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office into an Office of Citizenship and New Americans to better coordinate federal and local integration strategies and it would create a Task Force on New Americans, comprised of leaders from key federal agencies, including the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.

These are the types of grassroots, locally driven programs that we should be encouraging,” Bennet said.