Top 10 of 2010
Issue #3: Painful Cuts to Integration Budgets — Even in Places Committed to Immigrant Integration
December 2, 2010
There's no getting around the fact that integrating immigrants costs money. That explains why recession-battered European countries, as well as a number of US states, made cuts to programs affecting immigrants in 2009 and again in 2010.
This year, some places have had to slash muscle, not just trim fat, across a range of areas. Under such circumstances, immigrant integration programs did not escape the scalpel although some countries, most notably Germany, increased integration spending even as doubts about immigrant integration reached new highs (see Issue #4: Europe, Wary of Immigration and Immigrants, Reaches an Inflection Point).
Considering Ireland's recent acceptance of an 85 billion-euro (US$132 billion) bailout package and its austerity plan for economic recovery, including reductions to the government payroll and welfare benefits, the outlook for immigrant integration funding there remains bleak.
The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have long proved attractive destinations for immigrants, with the United Kingdom traditionally spending little on immigrant integration programs while the Netherlands invested heavily. The combination of the recession and newly elected governments in both countries has meant changes to existing supports, however.
In the United Kingdom a conservative coalition took over in May. Over the summer, the government quietly scrapped its GBP 50 million (US$78 million) Migration Impacts Fund that previous Prime Minister Gordon Brown set up in early 2009 in response to immigrant-related pressure on housing, education, and hospitals.
Under the coalition government that took power in October — which includes Geert Wilders's anti-immigrant Freedom Party — the Netherlands is poised to make immigrants pay for a mandatory integration course; those who do not pass the integration exam would lose their residence permit. The government also plans to slash the integration budget incrementally to achieve savings of more than 300 million euros (US$405 million) by 2014.
In the United States, the federal government has been able to provide only modest budgetary support to the states through a large stimulus bill in 2009 and a smaller, supplemental stimulus in 2010. For a while, the federal stimulus maintained the floor under a number of safety-net programs that helped immigrants and their children. The election of the new Republican House, however, has brought many would-be budget-cutters to Washington, making the prospects for further stimulus unlikely.
Even with the federal stimulus funding, programs funded almost or entirely by state money have proved vulnerable — and this includes many programs targeted to immigrants. After certain groups fought to keep funding for Massachusetts' health insurance program for low-income legal immigrants in 2009, Massachusetts eliminated it this year.
Citizenship-assistance programs have been easy targets: Maryland cut its program in its 2011 budget, and Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington state trimmed budgets for their programs in 2010. Illinois, which reduced its human services budget (home to various immigrant integration programs) by 10 percent in 2010, will do so again in 2011.
Not all the news has been bad. When hard-hit California — home to over one-fourth of the nation's immigrants and traditionally generous in its benefits — finally passed its 2010-2011 budget in October, a number of immigrant-related programs the governor had targeted survived. These include state-funded benefits for legal immigrants in the areas of health insurance coverage, cash welfare, and aid for the aged and disabled.
Of course, California slashed many other social welfare programs that affect the native born and immigrants alike. And since the state's budget still has a structural deficit, the pain is far from over.
Question: With jobs scarce and budgets in key states and countries still bad/deteriorating, will progress on integration come to a halt and/or lose ground?
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