Immigration policy and paths to citizenship are hotly contested topics on the national stage, yet immigration is most often experienced locally. As shown by the recent news reports below, cities like Hartford, CT and towns like Oakley, CA are on the front lines of some of the most important questions and tensions related to immigration.
How, for example, does the integration of local immigrant communities challenge our notions of justice and equality? How far should we extend civil and political rights, for example, to immigrants with or without authorization; and what responsibilities should we expect in return?
The Hartford by the Numbers blog reports on collective action taken by local civic organizations in Hartford, Connecticut, where one quarter of residents are recent immigrants. Hartford Public Library, along with a number of city agencies and local civic and academic institutions, led a broad-based effort to promote immigrant civic engagement.
Over three hundred people were involved across all activities of the three year project.
The outcomes were substantial, and included the development of strong relationships, an increased awareness of immigrant issues, integration of immigrant and refugee families within their local communities, and increased social capital for immigrant as well as receiving communities. In addition, action teams focused on new community projects, municipal and organizational investment in immigrant and refugee issues was enhanced, and a City Commission on Immigrant Affairs was established.
Read Hartford as a Global City: Immigrant Civic Engagement Initiative Gains Recognition (Hartford by the Numbers, February 4, 2014).
In their monthly magazine, The League of California Cities discusses how a number of California cities are encouraging and supporting the state’s 2.5 million lawful permanent residents to become citizens.
Approximately 2.5 million “lawful permanent residents” living in California are eligible to become U.S. citizens. Citizenship strengthens immigrants’ ties to their communities, increases their opportunities to participate in our democracy and builds their economic contributions with a typical 15 percent increase in spending power. As consumers and taxpayers, new citizens contribute significantly to local economies. Thus, increasing the number of immigrants who naturalize can be a boon to individuals and their communities.
For example, the City of Oakley has run a citizenship drive over the last two years. As further reported in East County Today:
… a segment of our Oakley residents also qualify to become U.S. Citizens through the naturalization process. You, Me, We Oakley! And partners recognize the benefits of fully integrating these family members, friends and neighbors and therefore host an annual Citizenship Drive during which aspiring new citizens get free assistance with the 10 page Naturalization Application that initiates the process. This event is made possible due to the participation of non‐profit partners, as well as Oakley resident volunteers called YMWO! Ambassadors. The ambassadors receive training to complete the complex N‐400 application.
Read How Local Officials Can Support Citizenship and Civic Participation (Western City, January 2014).
Also read Oakley Labeled a “Model of Promoting Citizenship and Civic Participation” (East County Today, January 10, 2014).
Finally, Kirk Semple reports for the New York Times on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s innovative Office of Immigrant Affairs, established to better accommodate and serve immigrants settling in New York City.
As efforts by the Obama administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform have faltered, states and municipalities have sought to deal with immigration-related challenges on their own. Some governments have toughened local enforcement measures against people in the country illegally, while others have opened the door wider to their foreign-born residents, providing more support and access to public services.
During a succession of mayoral administrations, New York City has established itself as one of the most immigrant-friendly places in the nation.
Read New York City’s Office for Immigrant Affairs has become a global model (New York Times, December 30, 2013)
Keep checking back for more news and events this spring related to immigration and the challenge it poses to American democracy!