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Immigrant Integration Project Shows Promising Results

Press Release
Thursday, December 9, 2004

Immigrant Integration Project Shows Promising Results

Building the New American Community Initiative wraps up 3-year project

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Conventional wisdom says large cities have all the experience receiving immigrants to the United States, but a unique pilot project conducted in America's small and medium-sized cities shows that broad-based community coalitions can proactively integrate the newcomers who are increasingly transforming Main St., USA.

In the "Building the New American Community Initiative" (BNAC), the first project of its kind, a consortium of leading organizations in three mid-sized metropolitan areas undertook inclusive community-building through such efforts as immigrant voter education, recertification for foreign-trained professionals, leadership training and youth development.

"This is the story of how immigrants and refugees in the United States struggle to become not just guests, but leaders in their communities and society as a whole," said Max Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. "With the right forethought, resources and cooperation between groups and sectors, America's small and medium-sized cities can integrate immigrants every bit as well as cities the size of New York or Los Angeles."

BNAC's final report, available at www.migrationpolicy.org, contains valuable project findings for policymakers, funders and organizations collectively approaching the challenge of helping newcomers adapt to their new communities and local communities welcome newcomers.

"Immigrant integration is not just a one-way process," said Ann Morse, BNAC program manager. "What this project proved is that integration is a complex, multifaceted, long-term process that involves an entire community—including employers, schools, neighborhoods, places of worship, government agencies, etc."

The project was conducted at three demonstration sites—Lowell, Massachusetts; Nashville, Tennessee; and Portland, Oregon. Each site was required to establish a coalition of integration partners and to develop an integration plan. The coalitions included public-private partnerships that reached across levels of government and included a broad array of non-governmental organizations. The integration agendas focused on youth and adult education, workforce and business development, neighborhood socio-economic development and civic engagement.

"BNAC was an experiment in how governments and civil society can cooperate to achieve the positive integration of refugees and immigrants," said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute. "Smaller cities are discovering that these public-private partnerships are vital to integrating increasing numbers of immigrants."

The integration coalitions in Lowell, Nashville and Portland had to adapt to changing environments during the course of the three-year project, including the challenges new Americans faced in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The report notes that new settlers must make many adjustments as they try to live the American dream, include adapting to a changing economy and political climate, and ensuring positive development for their children.

According to the report, "The BNAC Initiative highlights the range of social and economic conditions that influence integration opportunities across the country? If the federal government is to embark on a broad integration program, one of the most salient lessons to be drawn from the BNAC experiment is how the 'uneven geography' of refugee and immigrant settlement, as well as the availability and quality of resources within each city, requires innovation in integration policy development and delivery."

One of the most successful aspects of the Initiative was in the area of civic engagement.

"Newcomers learned not only about the American electoral system and the importance of voting, but also about participating as partners with public agencies in the coalitions," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "Policymakers also gained a better understanding of newcomer communities, challenges facing refugee/immigrant families as they become Americans, and how public policies facilitate or impede productive integration."

The BNAC Initiative is a joint project of five national organizations—the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Urban Institute, the National Immigration Forum, the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, and the Migration Policy Institute. It was primarily funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. The report was prepared by the Migration Policy Institute.

For interviews or for more information, please contact any of the partner organizations:

Migration Policy Institute
Contact: Colleen Coffey 
202/266-1910

National Conference of State Legislatures
Contact: Bill Wyatt
202/624-8667

National Immigration Forum
Contact: Douglas Rivlin
202/383-5989

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
Contact: Max Niedzwiecki
202/667-4690

The Urban Institute
Contact: Michael Fix
202/261-5517

 

PROMISING PRACTICES FROM BNAC COMMUNITIES

As the demonstration sites developed their own integration goals and plans, all three sites recognized the importance of the civic component, and included it as a key goal.

Some promising practices:

  • Portland's coalition members participated in a budget consultation process with county and school officials identifying ways to improve services for youth in Multnomah County.
  • Nashville addressed challenges facing foreign-trained professionals in gaining U.S. certification both through a taskforce that catalogued barriers and by bringing the issue to the attention of state legislators and governor's staff.
  • Lowell's Campaign for Voter Vitality, created to encourage voter education and registration, engaged 40 non-profits and city leadership, and convened a multilingual rally at city hall with 250 attendees and 14 speakers representing seven countries.
  • A "Board Bank" initiative prepared refugee and immigrant leaders to become full and effective participants on boards and commissions of local government institutions and non-profit organizations (both Nashville and Lowell.)
  • Portland's "small grants" program encouraged civic participation and community engagement between newcomer and receiving communities through cooperation in neighborhood projects such as a community garden, a forum with state legislators and participation in local business district and transportation plans.