While attention has been focused on federal immigration efforts these last few months, states and cities continue to encourage and promote immigration as well. From well-established programs like Welcoming America and its many state-level affiliates, Cities of Migration, the Building Resilient Regions research group, and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, to new programs like the Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, the impetus to invite immigrants into our communities continues to grow.
Welcoming America is a national collaborative that “promotes mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans” working to “promote a welcoming atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants and native born residents can find common ground and shared prosperity.” Recognizing that attracting and retaining immigrants helps position communities as competitive leaders, eleven local governments have joined the new Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative with Welcoming America. Along with the City of Chicago, they include places as diverse as Boise, Idaho; Austin, Texas; Montgomery County, Maryland and Dayton, Ohio. Many initiatives stand out as forward-looking examples of how receiving communities can maximize opportunities for economic growth and cultural vitality by proactively charting their welcoming path.
Similarly, Cities of Migration – which seeks to improve local integration practice in major immigrant receiving cities worldwide through information sharing – presents many examples of good ideas from successful cities. Cities of Migration defines a good idea in integration as “any program, activity or strategy that has made a difference in the successful integration of migrants in city life. In this process, the city and all its residents have also benefitted with increased social cohesion, greater urban prosperity and the richness that cultural diversity affords all communities.” The Cities of Migration examples showcase effective integration programs to help practitioners explore a wealth of practical, innovative, successful, and transferrable ideas.
Operating from a research perspective, the Building Resilient Regions research group frames the immigrant integration conversation around factors that contribute to successful immigrant integration in local places. As part of their broader research on building resilient regions – metropolitan regions with the ability to successfully bounce back from an economic shock – the research group examines the role of immigration and immigrant integration as one important component in a place’s capacity for regional resilience in several metropolitan areas across the United States. Similarly, the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration brings together scholarship and data highlighting the processes of immigrant integration over time, and engagement to create dialogue among government, community organizers, business and civic leaders, immigrants and the voting public.
From coast to coast and throughout the heartland of America, immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs breathe new life into communities. They not only help stem population loss, alleviate aging population trends, and fill labor market gaps, but they also inject new energy into local economies and boost housing markets. Immigrants also open new businesses and create new jobs along with a new and growing consumer base. In many cases, immigrants and their businesses are helping to revitalize neighborhoods within small towns and growing metropolitan regions. Clearly, local city leaders, practitioners, and researchers are interested in implementing immigrant integration initiatives.
Yet, economics aren’t all we should be concerned with. Immigrants contribute significantly to the social and cultural fabric of a community – making it a place all kinds of people want to come to and be a part of. As such, the work of Welcoming America, Cities of Migration, and the Building Resilient Regions research group help us learn from local level innovations encouraging economic development and the creation of vibrant communities. Fundamentally, the building blocks for inclusion and opportunity occur at the local level. Welcoming initiatives are part of the building blocks necessary to create an atmosphere where acceptance and support for thoughtful immigration policies go hand in hand.