Thursday, June 12, 2014

Senator Ferlo Introduces Bill Creating State Office of New Americans to Serve Immigrant & Refugee Community

State Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Highland Park) announced the introduction of new legislation that would create a state Office of New Americans to serve as a liaison between the Commonwealth and Pennsylvania’s immigrant community.

"Immigrants provide an important source of energy, innovation, and entrepreneurial activity and I believe that Pennsylvania can do more to be competitive in attracting and keeping this pool of talent," Ferlo said in a press release. "Immigrants face many challenges when they move to a new country, and many of those challenges can be addressed through coordination between state government, local immigrant assistance organizations, and the immigrants themselves."

Ferlo noted that Pennsylvania ranked 42nd among the 50 United States in population growth from April 2010 to July 2013, and that in 2012 Pennsylvania’s immigrants comprised 6 percent of the Commonwealth’s population. Despite slow population growth, Pennsylvania’s increase in residents has a strong immigrant component, and these individuals and families need services that the Commonwealth can provide in order to assist in their transition.

"Nearly 800,000 immigrants live within our borders," Ferlo said. "Immigrants are a vital part of not only our Commonwealth’s history, but also its future. These individuals fill skilled positions throughout our economy. When looking ahead, finding a way to assimilate and welcome immigrants into Pennsylvania’s social and cultural foundation will bring untold benefits."

The proposed legislation will create the Office of New Americans under the Department of Community and Economic Development. The office's role would be to provide internal coordination of services that commonly affect the lives of immigrants, to promote the state abroad to attract skilled workers, and once here, to help integrate immigrants into their local communities.

Ferlo’s bill requests an appropriation of $200,000 for four full-time staff members who will be responsible for the operation and services provided by the Office of New Americans.

"Senator Ferlo’s vision for Pennsylvania recognizes that immigrants bring significant economic and social benefits to our Commonwealth," said Peter Gonzales, President and CEO of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. "Equally important, his proposal recognizes that lifelong Pennsylvanians also benefit when newcomers are effectively incorporated into our communities."

The legislation will also create the Advisory Board to the Office of New Americans that will provide advice to the Governor and the office on how to best attract, retain, and integrate immigrants. The office will be composed of key department secretaries, or their designees, and individuals from several non-governmental sectors with expertise on immigration policy. The Board will be composed of 20 members appointed by the Governor.

"The proposed legislation creating an Office for New Americans in Pennsylvania is critical to growing a diverse workforce and an economically competitive region and state," said Melanie Harrington, President and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh.

"We provide a broad array of new arrival services to immigrants, internationals, and other diverse individuals through our Welcome Center and this important legislation will provide us with a partner and champion at the state level helping to increase the talent pool, strengthen the social and cultural environment of the region, and ensure our future economic prosperity.

Ferlo made the announcement in conjunction with the Global Great Lakes Convening held in Pittsburgh today. The event attracted representatives of more than 20 cities and organizations in the upper midwest and northeast regions working on immigration-related economic development issues.

A complete and detailed list of the responsibilities of the Office of New Americans is available in the Senator’s co-sponsorship memo. Click here to download the co-sponsorship memo. Once introduced, the bill will await referral to the appropriate Senate committee.

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