Arkansas United launches new federally-funded immigrant integration program

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An Arkansas advocacy group received a first-of-its-kind grant to help immigrants navigate the process of becoming U.S. citizens.

Arkansas United will use the $250,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to launch the Together Towards Citizenship (TTC) 2023 Innovation Project. It’s the first time the grant has been awarded in Arkansas.

The initiative will help Arkansas immigrants “overcome persistent barriers to fulfilling the potential of U.S. citizenship” by focusing on closing citizenship service gaps in rural communities and across the state, according to a press release.

One of those barriers is a lack of relationships between services providers and immigrants that results in poor coordination and trust, Arkansas United Deputy Director Joshua Ang Price said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. Additional hurdles include language access, a lack of immigration attorneys and a “guest mentality” among immigrants.

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“Sometimes as immigrants we feel like we’re perpetual foreigners even though we were born here or have lived here for several generations,” Price said. “We feel like sometimes maybe we’re just visiting and the United States isn’t really our home, and we at AU want to make sure that immigrants who are here now realize that Arkansas is their home, the United States is their home, and we want to help them have access to all the resources and opportunities so they can build that home here for themselves and their families.”

Arkansas ranked fourth among the states in immigrant population growth from 2000 through 2010, with the foreign-born population increasing by 82 percent, according to a report commissioned by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

As of 2018, 5% of Arkansas residents were immigrants, while another 5% were native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent, according to the American Immigration Council

The TTC program is supported by the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant Program (CIGP), which aims to expand access to high-quality citizenship preparation services for immigrants, according to a press release. USCIS awarded more than $22 million to 65 organizations in 29 states in fiscal 2023, and the program has supported more than 300,000 lawful permanent residents during its 15-year history. 

Components of the TTC program include citizenship readiness assessments, virtual working groups, immigrant integration fairs and the expansion of Arkansas United’s community navigator program, which assists first-generation immigrants with navigating resources and opportunities available in the state. 

“In Arkansas, there are tremendous service providers and a lot of good will in wanting to reach all of our immigrants, whether it’s on citizenship or in general in being able to include them into the fabric of our communities and our economy,” Founding Executive Director Mireya Reith said. “But one of the challenges that we have…[is] we just have not been able to connect to its fullest potential getting the people who need the services in front of those service providers.”

The grant began Oct. 1, and in the first six months of the program, Reith said, Arkansas United plans to request USCIS data on lawful permanent residents in Arkansas and conduct a needs assessment with them to identify gaps in services. Arkansas United also expects to organize five immigrant integration fairs. 

The grant program runs through Sept. 30, 2025. Arkansans interested in participating in the TTC program can learn more by filling out this form.

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