A bill that could create a state Office of New Americans to help immigrants better integrate into life in Delaware sailed through a General Assembly committee Wednesday.
Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, cleared the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee on a vote of two yes and two on the merits. On the merits means the legislator thinks the matter deserves debate but doesn’t want to go on the record supporting it.
Only four of the seven committee members attended the hearing: Brown, Rep. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown; Spiros Mantzavinos, D-Elsmere, and Rep. Eric Buckson, R-Dover.
Senate committees don’t take votes in public. When the tally appears on the General Assembly website, it appears as numbers with no names unattached.
The bill now moves to the Senate Finance Committee because it will cost $543,620 for the 2024 fiscal year, with costs increasing by 2% each year.
The bill would create an advisory committee to advise the new office and the Governor in attracting, retaining, and integrating immigrants into the state.
“I’m concerned when we do increase the size of the government whether it’s small or large,” Buckson said. “How does it bid? How does it work?”
Buckson asked Brown whether the government already provides the services listed in the bill.
Brown replied that it does, but that the process would be more streamlined with the new office.
The bill cites information from 2018 showing a 9% immigrant population, but the Migration Policy Institute says immigrants in Delaware in 2021 are 10.1% of the population, at 101,260 people, with 43.4% coming from Latin America, 31.9% coming from Asia, 13.7% from Africa, and 9.2% from Europe.
Across the country, 17 other states have similar offices for immigrants as part of the Office of New Americans State Network.
They include California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Public Shows Support for Immigrant Office
Michael Zimmer, a senior policy consultant at the World Education Services, said he wishes Michigan, where he helped with its New American office, had an advisory committee.
“The advisory committee established by the bill is a critical component of ensuring input from the immigrant refugee communities as well as the immigrant refugee facing entities within state governments,” Zimmer said.
Devon Jay, whose parents immigrated to Delaware from China, said that he supports the bill because it helps immigrants live the American dream.
“The American dream only works if there are people on the other end of the rope pulling…Let’s do our part as Americans to go beyond just saying welcome,” Jay said. “Let’s provide the resources, the tools and the care to improve the economic prosperity, and quality of life for those who bravely want to call Delaware their home.”
Kelechi Lawrence, who immigrated to Delaware from Nigeria and is the chairman of the Delaware African and Caribbean Affairs commission, said some of the things the bill proposes are issues they’ve worked on specific to the African diaspora.
“So we’ll definitely be delighted and in support of carrying this bill to become law,” Lawrence said.
Ronald Tello-Martzol, who immigrated to Delaware from Peru in 2002 and is the executive director of the Hispanic American Association of Delaware, said he appreciates the support the bill would give to the immigrant community.
“There is one thing that everyone wants, Republicans and Democrats, and immigrants more importantly, which is to learn English,” Tello-Martzol said. “We all want to learn English. I applaud all the supporters for recognizing the crucial contributions of immigrants in Delaware by investing in our newcomer community. You will be sure that more Delawareans will have the skills needed to enter the workforce.”
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