The welcome materials the federal government directs new immigrants to read — which detail, among other facets of American life, how and where to get government benefits — are in the process of getting a bit of a makeover to increase accessibility for newcomers.
The WelcometoUSA.gov website, which bills itself as “the U.S. Government’s official web portal for new immigrants,” maintained by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will soon feature information about President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation, USCIS spokesman Chris Bentley told The Daily Caller.
USCIS has already added new promotional banners to the site that make it easier for users to find information about personal finance, child care and emergency information. The agency is working to make the language even more accessible to its target immigrant audience. (RELATED: USDA proposes food stamp parties)
According to a list of changes to the “Welcome” site that the department has already made, provided to TheDC by USCIS, many of the changes are simplifications of the original text.
For example, where the “Government Benefit” section once read:
“Depending on your immigration status, length of time in the United States, and income, you may be eligible for some federal benefits programs. Government assistance programs can be critically important to the well-being of some immigrants and their families. Frequently, however, there is a lack of information about how to access such benefits. Benefits programs can be complicated and you may be given misleading information about how they operate,” followed by a list with links of government benefit websites such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and a site offering information on eligibility for all federal benefits programs.”
The “Government Benefit” section now reads:
“Depending on your immigration status, length of time in the United States, and income, you may be eligible for some federal benefit programs,” followed by the list of benefits programs.
The text on the front page of the site has also been significantly reduced. Initially the text read:
“Welcome to the United States! On behalf of the President of the United States and the American people, we welcome you to this great nation. The United States has benefited from the contributions of immigrants since its founding more than 200 years ago, and we are certain that our newest immigrants will continue this storied legacy. Freedom and opportunity are of the utmost importance in the United States and we wish you the very best as you begin your journey. As a permanent resident, you have made the decision to call the United States your home. It is now your responsibility to learn about this country’s civic values, its rich history, and its citizens. As you settle into your new home, WelcometoUSA.gov will help you find basic information about the United States and your new community. The Federal Government has a variety of resources for you. We encourage you to learn as much as you can about this country as you are now a valued part of our nation. Your contributions will help ensure the success of the United States for years to come. Congratulations and welcome. We hope you enjoy great success in the United States.”
It now says:
“Welcome to the United States! On behalf of the President of the United States and the American people, we welcome you to this great nation. The United States has benefited from the contributions of immigrants since its founding more than 200 years ago. As you settle into your new home, WelcometoUSA.gov will help you find basic information about the United States and your new community.”
The project to revamp the website started in spring of 2012 and will be finished in the next couple of weeks, according to Bentley.
Also included in the makeover will be the guidebook new immigrants are encouraged to read, “Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants.”
USCIS spokesman Daniel Cosgrove told TheDC the new manual will be out by the end of fiscal year 2013.
When asked if the revamping had anything to do with the president’s push for immigration reform, Cosgrove said that the effort was “an ongoing project” for the department.
As TheDC previously reported, some have concerns about the manner in which the government is promoting government benefits, including in the welcome materials, to new immigrants.
In November, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions advocated taking the “Government Benefits” page down. (RELATED: Homeland Security promoting government benefits to immigrants)
“Some of these programs are clearly not available for immigrants,” Sessions told TheDC in November, “and it just creates confusion out there and suggests that if you can get into America, you can leave and get onto these programs, and from what we are seeing, many of these people are successful in getting on benefit programs that they are not lawfully entitled to.”
DHS launched WelcometoUSA.gov in 2007, and the guidebook was first developed in 2004 and revised in 2007.
Update: After publication Sessions weighed in on the department’s expected addition of the Affordable Care Act to WelcometoUSA.gov.
“The administration’s determination to place immigrants on federal assistance, including the President’s health law, will add trillions to the cost of any amnesty,” the Alabama senator told TheDC. “It is wrong and unfair to ask Americans to pay higher taxes and bear more debt in order to provide free benefits to legal and illegal immigrants. Such a policy weakens growth and undermines the core legal and economic principle of immigration – that you should be able to establish before you come here that you are financially self-sufficient.”