ICIRR Member Organizations Testify at IL Human Services House Appropriations Committee Hearing

June 8, 2017
Sophie Vodvarka
Communications Coordinator
(773) 294-4909
ICIRR Member organizations including Arab American Family Services, Muslim Women's Resource Center, Spanish Community Center, Casa de Esperana, Latino Organization of the Southwest, Southwest Organizing Project, Centro de los Trabajadores Unidos, Project Irene, Centro Romero, and others attended the Illinois Human Services House Appropriation Committee's hearing this morning to urge members of the IL House to fully-funding the Immigrant Services Line Item in the Illinois State Budget.
Below, read the testimony of Nareman Taha of Arab American Family Services: 

Good morning representatives.  My name is Nareman Taha and I am the Executive Director of Arab American Family Services, which is a member of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights or ICIRR.   ICIRR is a coalition of over 140 ethnic, community-based, immigrant-serving organizations located across the state of Illinois.

As a first generation American myself with direct experience of the issues affecting immigrant families, I thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of immigrant services in Illinois.  Illinois is home to 1.8 million immigrants; the sixth largest immigrant population of any state in the nation.  According to the 2010 US Census, Illinois’s population is 13.5% foreign born, with immigrants accounting for half of the state’s total growth in the last decade.  I should also note that 47.2% of all immigrants in Illinois are naturalized US citizens.

Immigrants have contributed more than just population growth to Illinois though; they make up 17.5% of the workforce and continue to make an outstanding contribution to the cultural and economic vibrancy of our state.  Last year the combined purchasing power of Latinos and Asians alone reached $77.5 billion.  And Little Village on 26th St. in Chicago, for example, is the second highest grossing shopping district and sales tax generator in the state, behind only the Magnificent Mile.

Over the last fifteen years ICIRR has worked in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) to serve the immigrant community through programs funded from the Immigrant Integration Services Line under the Family and Community Services Division of the Department of Human Services.

The Immigrant Services Line Item or ISLI is administered by ICIRR in partnership with 59 statewide community-based organizations.  It provides real value to the state by providing critical resources to the immigrant community.  ISLI, at $6 million or just .01% of the overall state budget, funds the New Americans Initiative (NAI) and the Immigrant Family Resource Program, also known as IFRP.  As the fiscal agent of these funds ICIRR provides vital technical assistance, policy analysis and support to all of us at the 59 partner agencies.

At Arab American Family Services we provide services under both ISLI funded programs: namely NAI and IFRP but for the purposes of today’s testimony I will focus my remarks on IFRP. This essential programs helps immigrant families across the state to connect to vital human and government services, including medical care, SNAP food assistance, childcare and other emergency benefits such as TANF. 

Over the last 15 years, IFRP has helped over 500,000 legal permanent residents who are eligible to access essential human services by lifting them out of poverty and putting them on the path to self-sufficiency.   Additionally and of great significance to you here today it provides the state with a very low-cost means of fulfilling its federal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to provide language-accessible services to all regardless of English proficiency.

Representatives, the IFRP program does so in no less than 59 different languages.   The importance of language translation and interpretation services provided by ICIRR’s 33 IFRP partner organizations cannot be stressed enough. 

Without access to services in their native languages, at-risk immigrant families would go unserved or hungry.  The current IDHS system for dealing with low-English proficient immigrant families in the local FCRC offices currently involves calling our IFRP partner agencies for translations services or sending non-English speaking clients to one of ICIRR’s partner agencies, including Arab American Family Services. Without funding us how can IDHS continue to serve these clients who speak Vietnamese, Arabic or Polish without ICIRR’s partners, either in-person or on the other end of the phone?  The state simply does not have enough bilingual, bicultural staff to serve our low English proficient families.

Yes, the state does have a language translation line but wait times in the FCRC to use this can be long and more importantly the translators on the other end of the line are not as culturally competent as our centers’ staff.  In addition, there are simply not enough Arabic speaking case workers at IDHS to handle the case load. Our services are essential.

Unfortunately, however, the Immigrant Services Line Item has been completely eliminated again for FY18 in the Governor’s proposed budget with over 250 jobs at member agencies and 100,000 immigrant clients per year suffering the consequences.  We recognize that immigrants and the Immigrant Services Line Item are an investment in the future of Illinois.  Instead of cutting vital services to this growing population we ask that the state invest in its future by investing in immigrant services.  13.5% of the population deserves more than .01% of the budget.

I call on the Governor today to live up to his claim that he is pro-immigrant and come to the table to negotiate an equitable budget that includes immigrant and refugee services.

-Nareman Taha, Arab American Family Services