JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House on Thursday authorized the creation of a resource center for newcomers to the state, but didn't allocate any funds for its creation.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Deleta Williams, D-Warrensburg, said she believes the center would help service providers and agencies across the state provide better service and information for immigrants.
"This is designed to help the local entities, which are your local school districts, your public health agencies, (and) law enforcement," Williams said.
"If these folks are better educated, better informed on how to handle particular situations that might come up, it certainly will benefit the immigrants," she said.
The House bill authorizes the creation of the Missouri Multicultural Center and Program, which was the main recommendation of a 1999 Joint House-Senate Committee on Immigration in Missouri.
"This bill does not provide for any specific program, it allows for some programs if money is available but is not specifically designed to do that. It's to be a clearinghouse, a resource center," Williams said.
The committee examined the effects the influx of immigrants has had on local governments in Missouri. Most of them have been Hispanics, whose population has increased 92 percent in the 1990-2000 period, from 61,000 to 110,000, according to 2000 Census data.
The committee found that Missouri's economy is attracting immigrants to all parts of the state, especially in the southwest, and said that more resources are needed to help immigrants adapt to Missouri's laws and access health and education services.
Christina Vasquez Case, a researcher in the rural sociology department at MU, said language was a central concern for these immigrants.
"In the southwest (of the country) there are already bilingual people there, they were there before it was part of the United States," Case said. "There are service providers all over the place who speak the language."
Case said that in Missouri, service providers in communities with high influxes of Hispanics moving in found it difficult to cope because they lacked those skills.
The House bill does not allocate money to the center, and as a result proponents are looking for funds elsewhere. The bill is estimated to cost to $75,000 for 2003, and more than $100,000 for 2004.
Williams, the bill's sponsor, has so far been looking for a private funder to support the bill and the future Multicultural Center.
"We still have a lot of obstacles to overcome, and we would really like to find somebody to be our partner on this and help with the funding," Williams said last week in a conference about immigration.
The bill also authorizes the establishment of a Multicultural Citizens' Advisory Committee to develop and implement the program offered by the Multicultural Center.
The bill now faces a vote in the Senate.