Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Commission AmeriCorps State FY 2011
The State of Illinois is home to 1.8 million immigrants, the sixth largest immigrant population of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While diverse in origin, language, education, and skills, they share a deep desire to build a better life for their families and a better community in which they live. Moreover, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) there are currently 340,000 Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) in Illinois who hold green cards and are eligible for U.S. citizenship. These immigrants are on the path to U.S. Citizenship, but the new citizenship exams implemented by USCIS require increased civic instruction which have made this more difficult. A recent statewide ICIRR program assessment survey determined that two of the largest barriers to becoming new Americans are the need for tutoring in English and Civics. In addition, immigrants have been steadily moving from inner-city Chicago to the Chicago suburbs and "collar counties" for over a decade. The 2000 Census, for the first time, demonstrated that the number of immigrants living in Chicago had dropped, and that there are now a larger number of immigrants living in the suburbs. (The 2010 Census data was not yet available at the time of this application.) State and community organizations expect the 2010 Census to reflect this continued change as well. This shift of populations has created rapid demographic changes in communities that are unaccustomed to diversity. As a result, cities and towns throughout Illinois are now finding it difficult to integrate the different groups that make up their communities. In response to the identified need for increased English learning, Civic Education for New Americans and proactive community integration methods, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has developed the Neighbor to Neighbor AmeriCorps Program. The Neighbor to Neighbor AmeriCorps Program (N2N) will hire eighteen AmeriCorps members to be part of an "EnglishCorps" and a "CitizenCorps" across the state of Illinois. These AmeriCorps members will work in partnership with ethnic community based organizations (CBOs) to recruit native-born and immigrant volunteers from local communities to serve as English and Civics volunteer tutors to immigrants in their communities. Each AmeriCorps member will also plan and coordinate two local Community Unity Events to build bridges between the immigrant and native-born community members in each locale and two Community Service Events to provide opportunities for immigrants to volunteer and give back to their communities. Through Neighbor to Neighbor, ICIRR will develop a national model for enduring capacity of native born individual volunteers, immigrants, ethnic CBOs and communities to effectively use service volunteering to not only teach English and Civics, but to integrate immigrants and build stronger communities.