Immigration is key to America’s future economic growth and prosperity. As immigrants continue to move beyond traditional gateways like New York and Los Angeles to communities across the country, neighborhoods have been revitalized, small businesses have flourished, and cities have been enriched by the economic, civic, and cultural contributions of new Americans.

Recognizing this value, local governments, chambers of commerce, and non-profit organizations are leading efforts to attract, welcome, and integrate immigrants. Such efforts include initiatives to support immigrant and U.S.-born entrepreneurs, promote citizenship and financial empowerment, improve public safety and access to services, and advance education and workforce goals to help regions compete in the global economy.

This map highlights innovative local initiatives and provides detailed information and guidance for communities seeking to replicate successful programs and policies. Select a category (e.g., Municipal Offices) to sort the pins on the map, and click on a pin to learn more about a community’s specific initiatives.

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G4G Challenge Communities

Common among localities seeking to attract, welcome, and integrate international newcomers are multi-sector strategic plans that engage a range of key stakeholders from government, business, and civil society to set a vision and agenda for the community. Recommendations emanating from these plans span a variety of priority areas, including education and economic opportunity, civic engagement, public safety, and others. In many communities, such plans also lead to the creation of formal institutions within or in partnership with local government, such as a mayoral office to oversee immigrant integration or a non-profit organization or public-private partnership effort to coordinate efforts.

Goals:

Getting Started

A successful planning process engages multiple sectors and includes the immigrant community in a central way. Such efforts may be led by the local government, city council, chamber of commerce, or another entity that can serve as a convener. The following steps offer a roadmap for this process:

Establish the Convener and Core Partners

Successful planning processes bring many partners to the table, yet a smaller group of core partners and one or two organizations that convene and support the work behind the scenes is needed to give direction to the effort. In addition, identifying a skilled facilitator who can help design a strong process and ensure that participants contribute is key to a successful outcome.

Lay the Groundwork

Begin by connecting with key government, community, business, and philanthropic partners and establishing an initial vision for the process. Use this time to identify resources for staffing and running the process, and to map and assess other, existing community efforts.

Design the Process

At this phase, the core partners and facilitator create a design for the planning process, answering questions such as: Who are the necessary stakeholders? Who makes final decisions and how? How long will the process last? How will the results be shared with the community? What information is needed to make sound decisions? Will there be pre-determined categories or issue areas to structure the process around policy and practice areas?

Identify and Engage the Planning Participants

At this phase, key participants are identified and recruited. This may result in the creation of a formal body, such as a taskforce or steering committee, as well as sub-committees that breakout to plan around issue areas, such as economic development or public safety. Many plans also place a strong emphasis on engaging broader community or resident input, both within the larger structure, and through the use of surveys, focus groups, town halls, and other forms of dialogue.

Gather and Assess Data on Community Needs and Assets

Many local governments start by working with their community partners to ask the animating question: What is the area currently doing to attract, welcome, and integrate immigrants, and where are the gaps? Research partners can be great collaborators in providing additional data, particularly around business or economic case to both inform and strengthen support for efforts.

Conduct the Process

Timing for planning processes has ranged from ten weeks up to a year and involve regular and well-facilitated interactions among participants. Communications are critical to framing the purpose of the process and to ensuring that participants are heard throughout the process and understand what is expected of them. The process typically culminates in the creation of a written plan that identifies a community vision, goals, strategies, and tactics, as well as the resources that exist or are needed to achieve them. Many plans also incorporate the creation of new infrastructure – such as establishing an Office of New Americans or the creation of an intermediary organization – to ensure long-term implementation.

Publish and Disseminate the Plan

Transparency and communication are hallmarks of a successful effort, and once completed, it is important to share the plan not only with participants, but with the wider community to highlight the expected impact and benefits for all community members, both recent arrivals to and long-term residents of the community.

Implement, Monitor and Adjust the Plan

Well-designed plans involve many partners in implementation, which means there may be significant coordination and often a staggered approach to implementation because some activities may be easily carried out, while others require resource development or further design. At this stage, the convener or backbone organization(s) should continue to convene a core group to monitor efforts and ensure that the plan is carried out, meets established goals and metrics, and is refined as needed. Plans should be viewed as living documents that can be revisited, and from time to time, updated in consultation with the community.

Key Areas of Focus

Working groups or advisory committees will often focus the work of planning processes into themes, and subcommittees will reflect those themes. Members of the working group or task force will break into smaller groups according to their expertise and interest area, and lead more in-depth, often community-focused conversations around the following broad areas:

CASE STUDY: ATLANTA

In October 2013 city officials, business leaders and community representatives gathered at a convening hosted by Americas Society/Council of the Americas to discuss the state of play of immigration in the city of Atlanta and how the city could become a more global, welcoming place for international communities. As a result of this conversation, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Atlanta would join Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative, and in May 2013 he appointed the Mayoral Welcoming Atlanta Working Group. The group was tasked with developing a set of recommendations to ensure that Atlanta’s newly arrived communities are being integrated and supported.

The working group, made up of 21 leaders representing the city government, business, immigrant serving organizations, philanthropy, consulates and other non-profits engaged nearly 100 individuals in the planning process over the course of three months. National organizations including Welcoming America, Partnership for a New American Economy, and Americas Society/Council of the Americas offered expertise to help guide the process. The working group focused its effort around five pillars: Ensuring Equitable Access to Basic Services; Expanding Educational Opportunities; Facilitating Economic Empowerment; Enhancing Public Safety and Fostering a Connected Community; and Building Immigrant Civic Engagement and Leadership. Subcommittees were formed to develop recommendations in each of these areas.

On September 17, 2014, Mayor Reed joined members of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group to announce the city’s commitment to a number of initiatives—including 20 recommendations from the Working Group—to make Atlanta a more global and welcoming city to immigrants. With this he announced the creation of an Office of Immigrant Affairs, which was formally established in June 2015.

Timeline in Brief:

  • October 2013: Atlanta joins Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative at AS/COA convening| Press
  • February 2014: Atlanta city staff conducts stakeholder meetings with leaders across sectors to inform the development of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group
  • May 2014: Atlanta Mayor appoints Welcoming Atlanta Working Group to develop recommendations | Press
  • Summer 2014: Working Group engages community members to develop recommendations
  • September 2014: Mayor Reed announces 20 new recommendations to make Atlanta more welcoming, including the creation of an Office of Immigrant Affairs | Press Release; Media Coverage; PNAE Fact Sheet
  • June 2015: The Atlanta Office of Immigrant Affairs is formally launched, along with its website WelcomingAtlanta.com.

Best Practices

Municipal Offices

Municipal Offices for Immigrant Integration

Increasingly, cities across the country are creating municipal offices to house their efforts to welcome international communities, facilitate their integration, and make local government more accessible, equitable, and responsive to the needs of all residents. Traditional gateway cities like New York and Boston have had such offices (commonly referred to as an “Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs” or an “Office of New Americans”) for decades, while cities like Atlanta and Nashville—communities that have seen significant demographic change just in recent years—have established them more recently. Although each office prioritizes issues based on its unique local context, common areas of focus include improving access to city information and services; supporting immigrant entrepreneurs, attracting and retaining a talented workforce; promoting naturalization and civic engagement; and enhancing public safety. Cities interested in elevating their international profile through the creation of such an office within municipal government can draw upon a variety of existing models and best practices.

Getting Started

Institutional Process for Establishing an Office

Formally creating an office within city government to oversee immigrant integration has been accomplished through a variety of different measures, from a mayoral announcement creating the office to establishing the office within the city’s charter—one of the most formal mechanisms to ensure continuity across administrations. Many offices have been created through mayoral announcement, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Houston. In New York City, where the office has existed for more than three decades, the mandate for the office was eventually written into the City’s charter through popular referendum. Other cities have established their offices through executive order (Nashville and Philadelphia), by passing a city council resolution (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle); or by issuing a city ordinance (Denver).

Advisory Bodies

Many offices were created at the recommendation of an advisory body or taskforce, or have an advisory body that serves to inform their priorities and work. These advisory bodies can range from 15 to up to 40 or 50 people and often include representatives from the business community, non-profit and community-based organizations, and other local officials. Cities that have engaged an advisory body to inform their work include AtlantaBaltimoreChicagoDenverNashville and Seattle.

Staff

Staffing models for these offices vary depending on the size of the city and its foreign-born population, the placement of the office within local government, and the city’s budget for this work. Newer offices often start with a small full-time staff of one to two people and grow over time as they demonstrate value and/or shift priorities. Most offices have around two to three full time staff members. Often these offices also employ the skills of college and graduate student interns, fellows (in particular AmeriCorps and VISTA fellows) and volunteers to support their work. Staff functions typically include external affairs and community engagement, program management, research and policy analysis, and legal expertise.

Function

City offices serve multiple functions that make them critical to ensuring the city is accessible and responsive to all of its residents. These include:

Key Areas of Focus

The way city offices prioritize their areas of focus vary, often depending on community feedback, available resources, and partnerships. Generally, however, most cities have programming that falls into the following five key areas, which are typically identified during the strategic planning process.

CASE STUDY: NASHVILLE

In 2009 a coalition of community leaders, business, and faith groups worked together to beat back a city referendum that would have required all city business to be conducted only in English, a development that would have significantly impaired the efforts of new Americans to integrate into the economic and social fabric of the Nashville community. In the years following this achievement, Nashville has quickly risen as a national leader in innovative strategies to welcome, include, and integrate its international communities. In 2009 the city government established the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council made up of representatives from diverse immigrant communities to meet with city staff monthly and discuss issues of importance to Nashville’s international population. In 2012 the city launched MyCity Academy, a seven month educational and training program that gives new Nashvillians direct access to city government to learn about how the city works and empowers them to participate and engage with the government that serves them. So far 110 people from 33 countries have graduated from this program.

Building on this momentum, in September 2014 former Mayor Dean announced the creation of Nashville’s Office of New Americans, whose mission is centered around four primary objectives: engaging and empowering immigrants to participate in their local government and in their communities; fostering a knowledgeable, safe, and connected community; expanding economic and educational opportunities for New Americans to the benefit of all Nashvillians; and working with community organizations and other Metro departments to empower and support New Americans. The office continues to be advised by the New Americans Advisory Committee, and since its creation launched a new program: MyCity Connect. This new program builds on the success of MyCity Academy, offering new Nashvillians the opportunity to engage with the civic organizations that make Nashville the vibrant city that it is.

The Office of New Americans serves as a point of contact, convener, and coordinator between city government, community-based organizations, the private sector and Nashville’s immigrant community. It works with partners across sectors, from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to Casa Azafrán. In September 2015 the Office of New Americans hosted a forum with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce to support immigrant entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Timeline in Brief:

  • October 2013: Nashville becomes a Welcoming City | Welcoming Cities & Counties
  • May 2014: AS/COA hosts a convening on the contributions of immigrants to Nashville’s economic success | AS/COA Convening
  • Summer 2014: National partners provide technical assistance to Mayor Dean’s senior advisor to develop plans for creating a Mayor’s Office of New Americans
  • September 2014: Mayor Dean signs executive order establishing Mayor’s Office of New Americans | Press Release; PNAE Fact Sheet

Best Practices

I. Getting Started

Making the economic case. A large and growing body of research demonstrates that immigrants play a critical role in a city’s economic success, repopulating and revitalizing neighborhoods, stabilizing and growing the tax base, and spurring entrepreneurship and innovation everywhere from Main Street to the halls of major colleges and universities. Cities can use this research—and the narrative that being inclusive has an economic impact—to bring key stakeholders to the table and generate buy-in.

Get multi-sectoral buy-in early on through strategic planning and community outreach. Essential to the successful creation of an office is obtaining support and engagement from business, the community, and other city agencies for the initiative. Engaging stakeholders in the initial conversations that develop the mandate and areas of focus of the office help ensure the focus reflects the needs of the community, as well as identifies existing resources and areas for collaboration and partnership early on. This is often done through a strategic planning process, which can incorporate different elements of community engagement such as a listening tour, surveys, or interviews.

Mayoral leadership counts. The mayor’s leadership and commitment to supporting immigrant integration is critical both in elevating the stature of the office to the public, and in ensuring that its work is taken seriously and implemented fully. In many cities, designating a chief or head of the office at the executive level, reporting directly to the mayor, is an essential piece of making immigrant integration a priority.

Defining the narrative. Cities that embrace diversity and inclusion are more attractive to international newcomers as well as long-term residents, making them more competitive on the global stage. More directly, cities have a responsibility to provide quality customer service to all of their residents, and it is advantageous to ensure that everyone have access to information about public health and safety, emergency preparedness, education and economic opportunity, and other key priorities. Additionally, offices dedicated to facilitating immigrant integration can create efficiencies and reduce duplication across agencies and help front-line city staff carry out their responsibilities more effectively and uniformly, improving equity and access for everyone.

II. Maximizing Resources

Integration offices are designed to enhance collaboration across agencies, saving time and resources. Despite the up-front investment, cities are likely to save money in the long run by leveraging resources across agencies and maximizing their impact through collaboration. The role of the office as a convener and communications hub can be accomplished with a lean staff and a greater focus on partnerships with other agencies, community organizations, foundations, and the private sector.

Mapping existing assets in the community helps identify opportunities to increase impact without creating entirely new programs and initiatives. Assessing what the city and community based organization partners are already doing that can be immediately leveraged in support of immigrant integration efforts can help maximize impact with minimal investment. Often the first step is communicating and reaching populations with information about existing programs and services that they may not know are available.

Don’t re-invent the wheel. With the number of offices and models that already exist, there is no need to start from scratch when thinking through how to start a new office or initiative. Cities have launched programs across a variety of areas, including citizenship, entrepreneurship, language access, workforce development, and other key local priorities, that can serve as models for replication in new communities.

Partnerships make the most of limited resources. Many offices have limited staff and budgets, and rely heavily on partnering with other organizations, as well as other city agencies, to maximize resources as well as reach.

III. Maintaining Accountability and Transparency

Ongoing community engagement is key. Creating open lines of communication with organizations serving immigrant and refugee communities is central to ensuring that the work of the office is effective and reflects community needs. For example, holding standing community engagement forums allowing residents to provide feedback on local priorities or establishing an advisory committee representative of the community to meet with office staff on a regular basis.

Office staff should have connections to and build relationships with immigrant community leaders and target constituencies. Building trust with immigrant communities is key to the success of offices dedicated to facilitating immigrant integration. Staff that represent or have connections to the communities they serve, who know community leaders, and who understand cultural norms and languages are likely to be the most effective.

Strategic Plans

Multi-Sector Strategic Plans

Common among localities seeking to attract, welcome, and integrate international newcomers are multi-sector strategic plans that engage a range of key stakeholders from government, business, and civil society to set a vision and agenda for the community. Recommendations emanating from these plans span a variety of priority areas, including education and economic opportunity, civic engagement, public safety, and others. In many communities, such plans also lead to the creation of formal institutions within or in partnership with local government, such as a mayoral office to oversee immigrant integration or a non-profit organization or public-private partnership effort to coordinate efforts.

Goals:

Getting Started

A successful planning process engages multiple sectors and includes the immigrant community in a central way. Such efforts may be led by the local government, city council, chamber of commerce, or another entity that can serve as a convener. The following steps offer a roadmap for this process:

Establish the Convener and Core Partners

Successful planning processes bring many partners to the table, yet a smaller group of core partners and one or two organizations that convene and support the work behind the scenes is needed to give direction to the effort. In addition, identifying a skilled facilitator who can help design a strong process and ensure that participants contribute is key to a successful outcome.

Lay the Groundwork

Begin by connecting with key government, community, business, and philanthropic partners and establishing an initial vision for the process. Use this time to identify resources for staffing and running the process, and to map and assess other, existing community efforts.

Design the Process

At this phase, the core partners and facilitator create a design for the planning process, answering questions such as: Who are the necessary stakeholders? Who makes final decisions and how? How long will the process last? How will the results be shared with the community? What information is needed to make sound decisions? Will there be pre-determined categories or issue areas to structure the process around policy and practice areas?

Identify and Engage the Planning Participants

At this phase, key participants are identified and recruited. This may result in the creation of a formal body, such as a taskforce or steering committee, as well as sub-committees that breakout to plan around issue areas, such as economic development or public safety. Many plans also place a strong emphasis on engaging broader community or resident input, both within the larger structure, and through the use of surveys, focus groups, town halls, and other forms of dialogue.

Gather and Assess Data on Community Needs and Assets

Many local governments start by working with their community partners to ask the animating question: What is the area currently doing to attract, welcome, and integrate immigrants, and where are the gaps? Research partners can be great collaborators in providing additional data, particularly around business or economic case to both inform and strengthen support for efforts.

Conduct the Process

Timing for planning processes has ranged from ten weeks up to a year and involve regular and well-facilitated interactions among participants. Communications are critical to framing the purpose of the process and to ensuring that participants are heard throughout the process and understand what is expected of them. The process typically culminates in the creation of a written plan that identifies a community vision, goals, strategies, and tactics, as well as the resources that exist or are needed to achieve them. Many plans also incorporate the creation of new infrastructure – such as establishing an Office of New Americans or the creation of an intermediary organization – to ensure long-term implementation.

Publish and Disseminate the Plan

Transparency and communication are hallmarks of a successful effort, and once completed, it is important to share the plan not only with participants, but with the wider community to highlight the expected impact and benefits for all community members, both recent arrivals to and long-term residents of the community.

Implement, Monitor and Adjust the Plan

Well-designed plans involve many partners in implementation, which means there may be significant coordination and often a staggered approach to implementation because some activities may be easily carried out, while others require resource development or further design. At this stage, the convener or backbone organization(s) should continue to convene a core group to monitor efforts and ensure that the plan is carried out, meets established goals and metrics, and is refined as needed. Plans should be viewed as living documents that can be revisited, and from time to time, updated in consultation with the community.

Key Areas of Focus

Working groups or advisory committees will often focus the work of planning processes into themes, and subcommittees will reflect those themes. Members of the working group or task force will break into smaller groups according to their expertise and interest area, and lead more in-depth, often community-focused conversations around the following broad areas:

CASE STUDY: ATLANTA

In October 2013 city officials, business leaders and community representatives gathered at a convening hosted by Americas Society/Council of the Americas to discuss the state of play of immigration in the city of Atlanta and how the city could become a more global, welcoming place for international communities. As a result of this conversation, Mayor Kasim Reed announced that Atlanta would join Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative, and in May 2013 he appointed the Mayoral Welcoming Atlanta Working Group. The group was tasked with developing a set of recommendations to ensure that Atlanta’s newly arrived communities are being integrated and supported.

The working group, made up of 21 leaders representing the city government, business, immigrant serving organizations, philanthropy, consulates and other non-profits engaged nearly 100 individuals in the planning process over the course of three months. National organizations including Welcoming America, Partnership for a New American Economy, and Americas Society/Council of the Americas offered expertise to help guide the process. The working group focused its effort around five pillars: Ensuring Equitable Access to Basic Services; Expanding Educational Opportunities; Facilitating Economic Empowerment; Enhancing Public Safety and Fostering a Connected Community; and Building Immigrant Civic Engagement and Leadership. Subcommittees were formed to develop recommendations in each of these areas.

On September 17, 2014, Mayor Reed joined members of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group to announce the city’s commitment to a number of initiatives—including 20 recommendations from the Working Group—to make Atlanta a more global and welcoming city to immigrants. With this he announced the creation of an Office of Immigrant Affairs, which was formally established in June 2015.

Timeline in Brief:

  • October 2013: Atlanta joins Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative at AS/COA convening| Press
  • February 2014: Atlanta city staff conducts stakeholder meetings with leaders across sectors to inform the development of the Welcoming Atlanta Working Group
  • May 2014: Atlanta Mayor appoints Welcoming Atlanta Working Group to develop recommendations | Press
  • Summer 2014: Working Group engages community members to develop recommendations
  • September 2014: Mayor Reed announces 20 new recommendations to make Atlanta more welcoming, including the creation of an Office of Immigrant Affairs | Press Release; Media Coverage; PNAE Fact Sheet
  • June 2015: The Atlanta Office of Immigrant Affairs is formally launched, along with its website WelcomingAtlanta.com.

Best Practices

Welcoming Cities and Counties

Over 55 cities and counties across the United States have joined the Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative to create more inclusive and immigrant-friendly communities, maximize opportunities for economic growth, and position themselves as competitive in the global economy. Launched by Welcoming America in 2013, the initiative has grown rapidly as cities and counties increasingly recognize the value of opening their doors to international newcomers and businesses and investing in the success of all of their residents, regardless of language or origin. Welcoming Cities and Counties also serves as a platform to share ideas and best practices, develop new tools, and recognize communities for their progress.

Key Stakeholders:

Local Government

Forward-thinking local governments recognize that building communities in which all residents can fully contribute is not just good government, it’s smart economics. Local governments have an important role to play working with their communities to set an agenda, convene partners, and implement local policies and practices that expand immigrant inclusion and engage the broader receiving community. Support from local government is a critical component of network building, assessing community assets and needs, creating a vision and plan, and implementing and communicating new policies, programs, and practices.

Private Sector

Local business leaders, chambers of commerce, and employers all play important roles in shaping the narrative on immigration at the local level and communicating the benefits of diversity and inclusion in their communities. In many communities, private sector partners also play a direct role in facilitating immigrants’ economic integration, through targeted initiatives supporting workforce development, entrepreneurship, and financial empowerment.

Non-Profit Organizations

As front-line service providers and advocates, non-profit and community-based organizations have played a vital role in facilitating immigrants’ participation and integration in the civic, social, and economic life of their communities. Such organizations can lead or support important aspects of welcoming community efforts, including hosting Welcoming Week events, engaging receiving community ambassadors and champions, and helping to enlist the participation of the broader community in a multi-sector strategy.

Receiving Communities

Long-time residents of the communities where immigrants settle are a key constituency in the integration process. Local governments and community organizations have a responsibility to educate the public about the impact of immigration and actively take on bridge-building work to help people from diverse backgrounds overcome language and cultural barriers and find common interests and shared values.

Key Areas of Focus

Best Practices

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