Global Cleveland joined immigrant integration professionals and leaders from across the globe at this year’s immigrant integration conference, hosted by The New York Immigration Coalition and the National Partnership for New Americans. Lessons learned include practical advice about programming and organizational planning, strategies to expand on, and what’s worked for various regions as they develop strategies to integrate and welcome immigrants and refugees.


Through the discussions, some critical themes emerged that in turn create imperatives for creating welcoming, global, and vibrant communities:

Change the Conversation

Let’s get the conversation beyond immigrants representing immigrants; Muslims are comedians, immigrants are lawyers, refugees are talented professionals, etc. and they don’t need to only talk about immigrant issues. Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, points out that many Muslims are not immigrants. People assume she is, as a woman in a hijab. She is from Brooklyn, NY.

Be conscious of being inclusive and to the diversity of immigrants. Not all immigrants are Latino and vice versa.

Rinku Sen, executive director of Race Forward, commented on the use of language to characterize people: “no human being is illegal.”

Let’s change the frame of immigration, and move our conversation from law and order to one of human dignity. Let’s reflect the immigrant community in a real way and reflect the courage, boldness, and uniqueness of individuals.

Remember the History of Immigration in the US

Immigration to the US peaked in 1910; the top ten immigrant groups in NY are all non-European with the exception of #10, which is Russia. The face of immigration is changing and asking whether immigrants are good or bad for our nation is the wrong question. Immigrants are a part of our history, our development, and our national identity.

In 1938, 2/3 of Americans said “no” to accepting Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. We shut the door and countless lives were lost.

We must never forget the importance of our history and relating today’s issues to our own immigrant stories.

Understand the Economic Imperative of Immigrant Integration:

Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, explained that both low and high skilled immigrants can be part and parcel of an economic revival. Citizenship is an economic asset and Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants employ more than 10 million people worldwide. 25% of US tech companies have a foreign-born founder.

When we exclude or limit immigrants, the economy suffers. 23% of foreign educated immigrants are impacted by underemployment, or “brain waste”; Ohio would have collected millions of dollars in additional taxes if immigrants were not underemployed.

The most impactful employer partnerships occur when those contacts volunteer to assist immigrant job seekers. There have been shown benefits to having HR professionals act as volunteers and do mock interviews.

Bottom line: immigrant integration work is integrally tied to economic impact.

Create Realistic and Locally Grounded Strategies:

One of the most important things we can do in promoting a welcoming and inclusive community is to be authentic to local needs. Priorities in different cities don’t necessarily need to be our priorities, although we can learn from other cities’ practices. The critical piece is to move the needle forward, and that will be most successful through local solutions. Some suggestions made by leaders and practitioners in break-out sessions include:

Focus on access to services: the larger community, the county, and the city have a wide variety of services and organizations. We can support and advocate for culturally and linguistically accessible services.

Understand the importance of social capital and support or create programs to connect immigrants to new connections and social networks.

Even though immigration policy is federal, our cities are where immigrants and refugees live. Increasingly, immigration is moving to the suburbs. Metro regions should look at engaging beyond the city core and reach into the suburban districts as well.

Provide meaningful programs and assistance for workforce development. Many employment services do not have a lasting impact, but rather send people off to available jobs as quickly as possible. Support programs that emphasize careers with pathways, family supporting wages, and growth opportunities.

Apply a racial justice lens to welcoming and have tough conversations. For far too many Americans, the American Dream is not a reality.

Rhonda Ortiz, Managing Director at the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC, succinctly stated: I cannot imagine a world where immigrant rights are respected and protected while African American residents do not have that same respect for their rights.

Finally, the White House Task Force on New Americans has released a strategic action plan for the federal government, seeking to welcome and integrate immigrant and refugee populations. While these are federal policy recommendations, all communities can support, learn from, and expand upon these ideas.

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