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Government Guide Welcomes Legal Immigrants with Helpful Hints

With all the attention being given to the hundreds of thousands of people who enter the country illegally each year, it's easy to forget that over the same period, about as many immigrants arrive with the proper documents, signed and sealed. The U.S. government has just released a welcome guide for these legal immigrants… and has begun promoting it in immigrant communities around the country.

"Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants" includes practical information like how to pay taxes, rent an apartment and learn English. The 102-page handbook also features colorful graphics and photographs that explain U.S. history and government.

Up until now, such information usually was distributed through immigration lawyers and non-profit groups. This is the first time the government has published such a guide. Printed versions in both English and Spanish are available for less than $10.

Over the past 3 years, 3 million people have become legal permanent residents. During that same period, 1.5 million people became naturalized citizens. Alfonso Aguilar, head of the federal Office of Citizenship, says the guidebook is part of a new campaign to help legal immigrants of all backgrounds feel welcome. He points out, "America is not a nation based on race or creed. It is based on civic principles clearly established in the Constitution. Our American identity is a constitutional civic identity and that's what we want to promote."

As part of that effort, the Office of Citizenship is also selling flash cards to help immigrants learn about U.S. history in preparation for the naturalization exam. Versions of these cards are available on the Internet for free.

The project has received mixed reviews. Anita Soleimani is with Iranian Community Services. She says the flash cards are very helpful, but -- like many other immigrant advocates -- she found the guidebook a bit long. "I think flyers, 1 [or] 2 pages, may work better for people instead of a big book. Or on TV," she suggests with a laugh, "some advertisements on TV or radio would be better than a book because these days, people don't tend to read as much as before."

Even so, Ms. Soleimani says she hopes the guidebook will come out in more languages. Mr. Aguilar says it will, because it's important to provide immigrants with information in their native tongue so they can integrate into American society as quickly as possible. "They're part of the community," he says. "We should encourage them to participate in their larger community. [With] the record levels of immigration and the diversity of countries immigrants are coming from, we want to make sure that we engage them as soon as they arrive."

In addition to English and Spanish, online versions of the guide are now available in Chinese and Vietnamese. Versions in other languages -- including Tagalog, Russian and Creole -- are due out later this summer.