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US Government Presents New Orientation Guide for Immigrants  - 2004-10-07

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has developed a guide to provide newly arrived immigrants with basic information about American life, history and civics. The new guide is already available in English, but will also be translated into 10 other languages, to reach immigrants whose first language is not English.

According to Alfonso Aguilar, the chief of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services's Office of Citizenship, the United States is in the midst of the largest immigration wave in its history. One sign of this, Mr. Aguilar says, is the number of so-called green cards the United States is issuing. A green card is an identity card issued by the U.S. government to non-citizens who are legal permanent residents of the United States.

"Our nation is facing a great influx of immigrants," said Alfonso Aguilar. "In the past three years alone, we've averaged about a million green cards a year. These are people who are coming here legally, who the country accepts to come in and live and work permanently."

Mr. Aguilar says in the past, U.S. immigration officials did not make efforts to reach out to immigrants. Now, he says, he hopes new immigrants will see the guidebook as soon as possible.

"This is also historic, because for many decades, when lawful permanent residents were granted their status and received their green cards, they were basically not provided with any information," he said. "They were just given their green card and received a very bureaucratic letter, telling them here's your green card, welcome to the United States. Good luck. We want to do better."

The new booklet includes basic information that U.S. officials hope will be useful for immigrants, including information about the banking system, public schools, health care and social security. Mr. Aguilar says it is also aimed at introducing lawful permanent residents to what he describes as common American civic values. "We are a nation of diversity," said Alfonso Aguilar. "[We] recognize and value that. The languages, the religion, the traditions and customs that people from different places bring to America. But, in order to retain and maintain the political cohesion and unity of the nation, because of this great demographic change, we want to make sure that we promote a common civic identity for all lawful permanent residents and, especially, those who become new citizens."

Mr. Aguilar compares the current group of immigrants in the United States to those who came at the turn of last century.

"In the past, 100 years ago, they came mostly from Europe," he said. "After the immigration reform of the mid-1960s, most of our immigrants are coming from Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, and may have different customs."

These changes are reflected in the diversity of the 10 additional languages that have been chosen. They include Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.

The new guide is currently available in English, and can only be downloaded from the Citizenship and Immigration Services's web site. Mr. Aguilar says he expects the other language versions to be available within several months.