Local Communities Take the Lead in Welcoming All

Local communities across the country have long experienced the positive effects of growing immigrant and refugee communities.  As a result, many local governments, chambers of commerce, and nonprofits have been thinking proactively about how to create an environment that sends a message of inclusion and social cohesion, maximizes the contributions of all residents, and gives community members the tools they need to thrive together.

New Americans have driven population growth, revitalizing neighborhoods across the country, spurring innovation, and enriching communities with cultural diversity. However, some local communities— like Gainesville and Miami-Dade County in Florida, and Lancaster County in Nebraska— face growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy agendas from state legislators. Despite the uphill battle these and many other communities face from their states, combined with stalled efforts to bring meaningful federal immigration reform, local leaders are driving the creation of communities that welcome all.

To support and scale these pursuits, some initiatives like the Gateways for Growth Challenge (G4G) help local leaders facilitate local immigrant integration and inclusion by matching grants and technical assistance to develop a multi-sector strategic plan. Since the inception of the program, more than 70 communities across the United States—from Anchorage, Alaska to Austin, MinnesotaFargo, North Dakota to San Antonio, Texas— have captured, celebrated, and invested in the many social and economic contributions of New Americans.

This spring, six G4G communities (Columbus, OhioDodge City, KansasGainesville, FloridaLancaster, Nebraska; and the first-of-its-kind joint collaboration between local governments Minneapolis, Minnesota and Saint Paul, Minnesota) are launching their strategic plans, joining 21 other communities that have done so through the program. Miami-Dade County in Florida, and Contra Costa County and San Mateo Counties in California will join these 27 communities by the end of 2022.

These communities began the integration and inclusion process at the end of 2020, as cities across the country continued to learn to navigate the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and address larger systemic disparities, while thinking about ways to address the challenges and opportunities the immigrant communities face. After an extensive one-year community-based planning process, these six communities launched their first-ever strategic immigrant integration welcoming plans, featuring recommendations of tangible next steps to foster immigrant inclusion, from fueling economic development to expanding equitable access to education, civic engagement, and the economy, and building trust to create safe communities for all.

The work does not end here—in fact it is only the beginning. These communities will work to develop toolkits and resource guides for immigrants, expand economic development opportunities for immigrants’ small businesses, hire a coordinator to oversee the implementation of the plan, and build language access training and services.

As these and many other local communities have demonstrated, localities are taking charge of welcoming immigrantseven in the face of anti-immigrant sentimentsso that collectively the United States, a nation of immigrants, can thrive.

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