by Rebecca DeSantis, content and engagement coordinator, ICMA
In a time of growing global migration, the number of immigrants around the world has increased. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 1 million immigrants have arrived in the United States each year since 2001. They have spread out across the country, settling in cities and counties where they can find social and economic opportunities.
A growing number of places have decided to take an active role in supporting immigrant populations. Although the way that these communities decide to take action may vary, at the core of their mission is creating a more equitable and inclusive community. That can be a challenging task for local governments that may not have the programs or resources in place to support these groups effectively.
Welcoming America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has led the movement to assist local governments that want to be more inclusive by providing tools and resources around supporting immigrant communities. One of its flagship programs is the Welcoming Network, a global network of local governments that connect with their peers on issues of immigrant inclusivity and receive recognition for their efforts. The list of local governments involved in this program, and have become "Certified Welcoming," has increased to more than 500 communities. Welcoming America awarded certification to communities like Champaign, Illinois; Alexandria, Virginia; and Dallas, Texas.
In order to gain a better understanding of the relationship between immigrant communities and local governments, ICMA surveyed chief administrative officers nationwide about immigration in their jurisdictions. Below is a snapshot of the survey results.
Local government leaders estimate that job opportunities are among the biggest drivers of immigration growth in their communities.
Respondents estimate that job opportunities, for both low-wage as well as skilled or specialized opportunities, help drive immigration growth in their communities. Only 11 percent of responding local governments, however, highlight immigrant-driven diversity as an asset in economic development marketing, and support job training opportunities for immigrants. According to Welcoming America's Guide to Immigrant Economic Development, "Recognizing this economic necessity of our new century, we have seen a growing movement of communities that are looking to gain a competitive edge by welcoming immigrants." This guide features examples of cities’ approaches that focus on including immigrants to help drive economic growth.
Forty-five percent of local government leaders report providing multilingual access to community information.
Language is often a barrier to accessing government support and services, but many communities have overcome this challenge by offering multilingual information and resources. English language training (ESL) is also an important aspect of supporting immigrants facing language barriers. The survey found that ESL training is provided more in larger places, and mainly by schools and universities.
Thirty percent of local governments report being involved in providing housing assistance and 29 percent in providing health services to immigrants.
According to the survey, local governments are most often involved in providing housing assistance and health services, out of all human service activities, and the rate gets higher in larger communities. Other support services like food pantries or child care programs were widely reported but were listed as being provided most often by nonprofit or faith-based organizations. This is consistent with Welcoming America’s suggestion that it is the work of an entire community, including the local government and the supporting organizations, to help provide social and economic opportunities for immigrant communities.