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Federal Citizenship Office Promotes Immigrant Assimilation in Southland

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A federal administrator appointed by President Bush visited the Southland Thursday to push an assimilation initiative for immigrants regardless of their citizenship status. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: On a theater stage at L.A. City College, Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the federal government's office of citizenship, described a Web site and a packet that are central to efforts to assimilate the nation's immigrants.

Alfonso Aguilar: We have developed a, this toolkit, it's called "civics and citizenship toolkit."

Guzman-Lopez: During the immigration boom of a century ago, Aguilar said, the federal government put significant resources toward assimilating newcomers into the fabric of this country.

Aguilar: Our country needs an Americanization movement for the 21st century, but we need to come together as a society. To work together, to distribute this educational material, but also to provide services to help immigrants learn English, learn our civic values, and also provide them with basic information to become successful participants of the American society.

Guzman-Lopez: During the presentation, Aguilar made no mention of whether the effort targets only documented immigrants. He said, answering a reporter's question, that helping the 12 million undocumented residents is good for the country.

Aguilar: We will provide these resources without asking any questions, however, in terms of the issue of the undocumented, we certainly need immigration reform to address that issue.

Guzman-Lopez: His office's annual budget is half a million dollars. It's produced 20,000 informational packets this year. Libraries, places of worship, and neighborhood groups can request one free copy and use it any way they want.

A few years ago, the federal government split immigration enforcement from immigration and citizenship promotion agencies. After the L.A. City College event, city councilman Dennis Zine praised that move.

Councilman Dennis Zine: You've got the immigration and customs enforcement, ICE, you've got the concern, you've got the fear. You've got cities doing different programs. They really haven't reached out with the olive branch to say "Come in, and let's help you achieve and accomplish," and that's what this program is about.

Guzman-Lopez: Later this year, Aguilar's federal citizenship office will unveil recommendations for a national assimilation policy.

The intended audience includes people like Virginia Sanchez. She arrived here from Oaxaca 17 years ago. This semester she's taking English and civics classes at L.A. City College to prepare for her citizenship test.

Virginia Sanchez: No por ser Americana pero si tenener mas beneficios...

Guzman-Lopez: Sanchez said she's taking the classes to get ahead and to qualify for the benefits of citizenship, not to assimilate. She wants to vote, she said. But to call herself "Americana" would be to turn her back on her Mexican roots, and she's not ready to do that.