Illinois New Americans Integration Initiative
- Chicago, Illinois
“Through the New Americans Initiative, we are addressing immigrant needs holistically through a comprehensive array of immigrant integration services and programs.” - Grace Hou, Assistant Secretary of Programs, Illinois Department of Human Services.
The Illinois New Americans Integration Initiative is a partnership between the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) that makes immigrant integration a deliberate, strategic priority of the state. For nine years, the initiative has operated a set of programs ranging from helping 42,000 people become US citizens to making sure that an array of training and other services provided by the department are accessible to Limited English Proficient (LEP) customers.
The initiative's "We Want to Learn English"program offers vocational English training at Chicago city colleges and its Illinois Welcoming Center has helped nearly 5,000 people obtain the services, education, and information they need from other state agencies and community-based organizations.
The initiative has three main objectives: encouraging citizenship and community engagement; building public-private partnerships to promote immigrant integration with key actors across the state; and helping a major government agency update and streamline its systems to reflect the needs and strengths of new residents.
The partnership between state government and the leading umbrella organization for immigrant groups in Illinois shows how much good can be accomplished when major institutions take a coordinated approach to helping immigrants truly join and participate in their new communities. This extremely successful public-private partnership has already inspired similar initiatives in other states.
Through a comprehensive array of immigrant integration services and programs, the initiative holistically addresses the needs of immigrants and refugees and encourages citizenship and community involvement. By helping immigrants and refugees navigate bureaucratic processes and move up in the workforce, the initiative shows that a more proactive approach to immigrant integration can benefit both the immigrants themselves and their new communities.
About Grace Hou, Assistant Secretary, Illinois Department of Human Services
Grace Hou is Assistant Secretary at the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), one of Illinois' largest agencies, with more than 13,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $5 billion. She is responsible for the oversight of DHS' six program areas: Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Division of Human Capital Development, Division of Mental Health, Division of Development Disabilities, Division of Community Health and Prevention, and the Division of Rehabilitation Services.
In her role as Assistant Secretary, her priorities have centered around developing a systematic approach to increasing access to and improving services to limited English proficient individuals, creating an integrated service delivery framework that effectively serves those in need, and increasing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live in the community.
Prior to her appointment as Assistant Secretary in 2003, Ms. Hou was Executive Director of Chinese Mutual Aid Association.
Ms. Hou participates on numerous human service-related commissions and task forces, including the Autism Task Force, the Interagency Nutrition Council, and the Nursing Facility Safety Task Force. She is also a board member of the Community Memorial Foundation.
About Lawrence Benito, Deputy Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Lawrence Benito is Deputy Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR). He serves as the agency's in-house lobbyist, monitors state legislation impacting immigrant communities, and organizes institutional members on ICIRR legislative and budget priorities.
In addition, Mr. Benito is Executive Director of Illinois Immigrant Action, ICIRR's new 501(c)4 sister organization, which can engage in more targeted issue advocacy work. For the 2008 general election, he managed the organization's first get-out-the-vote contact project, which targeted 33,000 immigrant voters in Illinois' 10th and 11th Congressional Districts. Previously, he served as Associate Director of ICIRR, organized members in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago, and directed ICIRR's state-funded programs.