Exploring immigration and immigrant integration trends through a state and local level lens is increasingly popular among the broader media and national policymakers. More spotlights are being shone on the innovative integration initiatives in a growing number of cities. These initiatives are often the result of cross-sector collaborations of local civic, elected, government, non-profit, business, faith, education, and other leaders pursuing means to strengthen immigrant integration in their neighborhoods and communities. Although I’ve written about immigrant integration in cities and metropolitan areas for The Migrationist before, recent activities only serve to exemplify the growing momentum on immigrant integration at the local level, in spite of gridlock in Washington on immigration reform. For instance, President Obama spoke from Nashville, Tennessee in early December about his Administration’s recent executive actions on immigration. Nashville, a “new immigrant destination” without a long history of receiving diverse immigrant populations, serves as an example of what can be accomplished when different sectors of a city work together around a common issue. Meanwhile, more cities continue to join movements like Cities United for Immigration Action, Cities for Citizenship, and Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative. And in mid-December, many states and cities highlighted their immigrant integration efforts at the seventh annual National Immigrant Integration Conference, held in Los Angeles, California, December 14-16.
The National Immigrant Integration Conference (NIIC), organized by the National Partnership for New Americans, is one of the largest annual convenings of individuals and organizations working on immigration and immigrant integration issues, challenges, and opportunities. “At the heart of this three-day conference is the collaborations and networks we seek to create and strengthen in order to build a stronger democracy and launch a new decade for immigrant integration,” Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA) said. “We have convened the nation’s leading policymakers, practitioners, faith leaders, elected officials and government employees, funders, organizers, researchers, business representatives, and other stakeholders from across the country to think, learn and strategize together.”
- economic opportunity, inclusion, and stability;
- education services and systems: strengthening the cornerstone for integration;
- healthy families and healthy communities;
- arts, culture, mass media, and the immigrant experience;
- from naturalization to full citizenship;
- global migration and international models for integration;
- engaging receiving communities;
- strengthening our nation through workforce development;
- and protecting our rights and expanding our freedoms.
The experiences of cities as immigrant receiving communities, and the innovative efforts within them to strengthen economic, social, and cultural integration, were mostly featured in the economic opportunity, inclusion, and stability track and the engaging receiving communities track. The engaging receiving communities track included sessions and panelists focusing on the idea that “successful immigrant integration requires support from and engagement with the broad receiving community, including government actors, community-based organizations, faith communities, businesses, and neighbors.” The organizers of this track “recognize and celebrate the significant success we have achieved in creating immigrant-friendly communities across the country. At the same time, events such as children fleeing violence, an emboldened anti-immigrant movement, and the continued marginalization of communities of color have deeply challenged the immigrant integration field while also presenting opportunities for creative new partnerships.” This track explores “new approaches for addressing bias and backlash, building alliances and a broader base of support, and helping communities manage demographic change in ways that bring the whole community together.” Specific topics of conversation within the engaging receiving communities track included: “what works: overcoming backlash and fostering greater understanding in today’s volatile environment”; “promoting greater Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian community inclusion”; “how to communicate about changing demographics and address unconscious prejudice”; and “building alliances between African Americans and immigrants.”
The economic opportunity track included sessions exploring the concept that “access to economic opportunity is essential to ensure the financial success of immigrant and refugee families and imperative to the future of our national economy.” Sessions include “input from local practitioners, industry experts, labor unions and policymakers sharing their knowledge, best practices and lessons learned on how to effectively integrate immigrants and refugees into the mainstream economy, build assets, and create a pathway out of poverty.” Conversation topics within the economic opportunity track included: “building financial capability in immigrant and refugee communities”; “immigration and the states: advancing state policy priorities in immigration”; “building economic power for immigrant workers: union organizing, apprenticeships and collective bargaining”; “entrepreneurship as a component of integration in welcoming cities”; and “creating a sustainable economy for all: common sense economics”.
As the hundreds of individuals and organizations from across the United States illustrated at this year’s National Immigrant Integration Conference, the recent momentum in local places throughout the country is clear. As Joshua Hoyt, Julien Ross, and Eva Millona, of the National Partnership for New Americans, observe, “When we held the first NIIC, there was only one state with an Office of New Americans; now dozens of states and cities, recognizing the importance of immigrant integration, are competing to become the ‘most immigrant friendly’.” Indeed, even just in the past year the number of places pursuing positive and proactive policies for immigrant integration, welcoming, and warmer receptivity has dramatically increased. It will be fascinating to observe this process as it grows and expands in more places going forward into the New Year.