"Increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees are coming into our community, and they are coming from increasingly diverse countries, backgrounds, ethnic groups, and religions. Communities that don't reach out to newcomers risk having separate and divisive 'we-they' neighborhoods. It's essential to provide the tools that will help immigrants put down roots and become true members of our community."
Susan Thornton, former Mayor, Littleton, Colorado
Communitywide planning creates an intentional opportunity for immigrant and receiving communities to work together to identify barriers, develop policies, and implement programs that facilitate immigrant integration. The need for such planning has never been more pressing, particularly in the United States, where current immigration policies do not reflect the country's social, economic, and demographic realities and where no national policy exists to support the integration process.
In this section, GCIR profiles six initiatives that demonstrate strategic vision and considerable promise to promote the full integration of newcomers into our society. We've chosen projects from both established immigrant gateways and newer immigrant destinations. Regardless of their focus, scale, scope, or stage of implementation, all share a set of common "best practices" that can inform philanthropic support of and involvement in similar efforts in U.S. communities and beyond. The six initiatives are:
- Involve institutions and individuals from both receiving and immigrant communities, including both institutional and grassroots leaders. Research shows that community planning processes that value high levels of participation and local knowledge, treat everyone as equally important, and stay focused on the anticipated outcomes are far more likely to foster shared ownership of problems and solutions and achieve sustained change. When involving grassroots leaders, remember that established gatekeepers are not always the most authentically respected members of the community.
- Engage multiple sectors in identifying the problems and developing the solutions. Getting buy-in from and building trust with stakeholders-- including philanthropy, nonprofits, government, and business--are critically important to the success of multi-sector collaborations. For efforts involving the public sector, political will is essential.
- Utilize multiple strategies, such as action research, organizing, advocacy, capacity building, public education, media, communications, among others. The combination of strategies used should be tailored to local circumstances and draw upon the strengths of partners and stakeholders.
- Have patience, flexibility, a longterm commitment, and a willingness to problem solve. Effective integration of immigrants into communities happens over time. Stakeholders will need to allow the highly dynamic process to play out-- and to expect the unexpected. Mistakes, misinterpretations, and miscommunication will happen along the way, so be ready to respond creatively and constructively.
- Allow time for both relationship building and getting the tasks done. The ends and the means to the ends are of equal importance. The right balance is difficult to achieve, but making an effort to do so will reduce frustration and strengthen buy-in and ownership of the planning process among the stakeholders. The importance of building trust among participants cannot be underestimated.
- Be prepared to tackle tough issues. Concerns about undocumented immigration, intergroup tensions, or competition over jobs and scarce resources will surely arise. Leaders of the planning process must be prepared to address such concerns in a careful and genuine manner. Spend enough time addressing them, use sound data to inform discussions, and move the conversation towards finding local solutions.
We hope the case studies in this section will inspire you to consider seeding similar community-planning initiatives. As your foundation explores strategies for addressing immigrant issues, consider GCIR and the organizations featured in this section as a resource.