Massachusetts puts up the cash to give immigrants a helping hand

MANY Bay Staters are second- or third-generation Americans. But a substantial number are foreign born, including 350 new citizens who took their oath of allegiance June 25 at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall. Massachusetts has long been a haven for people from distant lands. Yet some have found it hard to adjust to their new surroundings. And private agencies that might assist them have lacked the resources to get the job done.

But the outlook for many of these newcomers and thousands who will be arriving here in the future may be a lot brighter, thanks to a new, state-funded program.

Gateway Cities, as the program is called, seeks out these immigrants, many of whom know little or no English, and helps them to become self-sufficient. Gateway Cities will work through existing, usually well-established, and largely private service agencies.

It will all be quite competitive, however. With the State Department for Communities and Development looking on, municipal officials will decide which private agencies get the funds and for what purposes.

State legislators appropriated $11 million for the program. Boston, where Mayor Raymond Flynn estimates that 120,000 people - about a fifth of the city's total population - speak a primary language other than English, gets $2.8 million. The rest of the money will be shared by 21 other cities or towns with a substantial number of immigrant residents. These first-year grants range from nearly $900,000 for New Bedford and more than $800,000 for Fall River to $12,600 for Gloucester.

Massachusetts is one of the first states to provide special funding of this kind, intended to address the adjustment needs of legal immigrants and refugees.

Although comparatively modest the first year, the Gateway Cities program, if successful, seems likely to grow as more aliens arrive in the Bay State and agencies serving them expand and new ones come into being. Making sure every grant dollar is properly spent and is not siphoned off in administrative expenses, as has often happened with other programs, could prove a challenge.

Gov. Michael Dukakis, whose parents came to America from Greece, is particularly enthusiastic about the prospects for the new program making a difference in the lives of many immigrants.

In announcing the first Gateway Cities grants at a Boston service agency for Hispanic residents, he said it is government's ``responsibility to work to ensure'' that America's newcomers share in the opportunities for a good life.

The scope of the program will vary from community to community, depending on the local need. Boston, for example, will focus considerable attention on efforts to provide recreation, tutoring, drug counseling, and legal services for Puerto Rican youths.

Other programs funded at least in part through Gateway Cities grants include education and job training and housing as well as immigration and naturalization assistance for those wishing to stay here and become American citizens.

Besides Puerto Ricans, who are already citizens, the Bay State in recent years has gained thousands of newcomers from many lands, from Canada, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Many immigrants have settled in older industrial cities like Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, and New Bedford, where rental housing is often more readily available than in suburban towns.

To apply for citizenship a legal alien must live in the United States for at least five years and be able to answer questions concerning the nation's government. He or she must also be of good moral character. But the applicant need not have great command of English.

The Gateways program could help foreign-born residents to overcome language barriers that tend to discourage many from seeking citizenship.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, who was born in Panama of American parents, has a special interest in helping immigrants become US citizens.

Participating in the recent Faneuil Hall naturalization ceremonies at which US District Court Judge Rya Zobel administered the oath of allegiance to 350 people from 39 lands, she gave each a copy of the US Constitution.

Liutenant Governor Murphy held dual citizenship until she was 19 when she took her oath of allegiance at a similar proceeding in Washington, D.C.

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