Steps for Action: Recommendations for How to Centralize Support Among Community Stakeholders and Hartford City for Immigrants
To achieve a strong city infrastructure for immigrant welcoming in Hartford, our first recommendation is to join Welcoming America and pursue becoming a certified “Welcoming City.” It will provide access to a network of other welcoming cities, policy resources, and a roadmap for instituting immigrant-inclusive city infrastructure.
Second, we recommend the implementation of an employee with the responsibility of addressing and communicating immigrant needs. This is a more cost-efficient and low-risk option than the creation of a welcoming center or perhaps a department. Alongside the implementation of a city employee, we suggest the creation of a website geared toward the immigrant population. The purpose of the website is to provide immigrants with easily accessible information regarding services and opportunities in legal matters, education, health, housing, language, transportation, recreation, etc.
Lastly, our final recommendation is the creation of an immigrant council. An immigrant council should consist of stakeholders across the city from all sectors of society, including education, health, business, and advocacy. An immigrant council can provide critical insight into the intricacies of the interconnectedness of varying industries within Hartford.
It’s important to mention that our research began with a vision for a city-sponsored welcoming center. Our findings suggest that it would be best to provide the foundation for such an initiative, first. The most prominent literature in immigrant welcoming systems across America shows that cities such as New York and Chicago, boasting successful models for physical welcoming centers, have been largely successful in service delivery and policy development that emphasizes immigrant mobility and equity.
Table of Contents
1. Welcoming America Certification
Becoming a member of Welcoming America can provide resources to Hartford and help give expert advice on tangible steps the city can take to welcome immigrants more efficiently. As we found in the literature review, Welcoming America is beneficial because it empowers local municipalities to take action and create open lines of communication. This spreads awareness throughout the community for immigrant issues (Rodriguez et al., 2018). Welcoming America’s network connects local governments to other community stakeholders to provide a long-term model for the social and economic integration of immigrants and towards strengthening governments’ relationships with the immigrants in their city (McDaniel et al., 2019).
Before actually going through the formal audit process, the city could also participate in Gateways for Growth. This is a free service offered through Welcoming America, which evaluates the effectiveness of the services offered in the city. This research is based on what the city could be doing more effectively, resulting in a report with actionable items for the city to pursue. One such example is in the field of language accessibility, where a representative from Welcoming America would survey the city’s resources and present options to improve upon language access for immigrants. This issue was of particular importance in our discussions with stakeholders, raised among ten different community stakeholder interviews, and also discussed in our group panel.
Hartford should consider pursuing certification because the resources and audit process itself request the implementation of some of our recommendations. For example, a paid city official with a job description to work with immigrant organizations is one of the requirements for being certified. While a version of such a position already exists within the city as per CRIA’s past resolution, several community stakeholders expressed the shared feeling of a disconnect between the Office of Community Engagement and their organizations.
With a certification from Welcoming America, it ensures a more sustainable and transparent model where the city ensures a routine interaction between itself and the immigrant population. The wealth of information and resources from joining the Welcoming America network and pursuing certification will be invaluable to how the city can welcome immigrants. There is a lot to be said for the national recognition that cities such as Erie, PA, have received since their Welcoming Standard designations. The amount of research and recognition is invaluable. Furthermore, there is little doubt that the exposure and network from a partnership with Welcoming America will help generate funding and grants.
The Welcoming Standard:
A) Government and Community Leadership
B) Equitable Access
C) Civic Engagement
D) Connected Communities
F) Economic Development
G) Safe Communities
In addition to these standards, potential members must have:
- Welcome Week Event (Citizenship ceremony, etc.)
- Dedicated Employee (Paid/Specific Job Description)
- Welcoming Proclamation (Assistance is offered by WA)
Welcoming Network Membership (Link to benefits):
- 3 levels of membership. Benefits range from coaching services, access to partner discounts/services, eligibility for national programs, etc.
Gateways for Growth (Link to website with reports):
- Competitive opportunity for localities to receive research support and technical assistance from the American Immigration Council and Welcoming America to improve immigrant inclusion in their communities
It’s important to note that in our conversation with Alivia Haibach, Regional Manager for Welcoming America, she advised us that Hartford seems to be in a great position for certification. She also mentioned that there are opportunities for coverage on behalf of WA for any expenses which are part of the application process.
2. Paid Employee Point Person/Website
The implementation and support of a paid employee position within the city can prove useful in many ways. Having an individual with a job description that addresses and communicates the needs of immigrant communities would lessen the chances of burdening city officials with overbearing workloads. A paid employee would be responsible for routine maintenance of communication amongst community stakeholders and officials. During our panel with community stakeholders, they were in consensus about the trust issue that the immigrant community has with Hartford city government. Either through prior encounters with the government or through preconceived notions, the immigrant population is cautious about engaging with the city. If the city demonstrates its investment in the immigrant community by appointing an official liaison, the community will become increasingly convinced of the city’s interest and dedication to integration.
Making it work for Hartford:
A city liaison could fit under a pre-existing committee/department position. There are six committees in Hartford’s city council. There are a couple of options in deciding where a liaison would fit. One option is the creation of an entirely new committee dedicated to immigrant welcoming. Another option is the creation of a sub-committee within either the Health & Human Services Committee or the Labor, Education, Workforce & Youth Development Committee. Discretion is reserved for city council members in determining how the issue of immigrant welcoming best fits in relation to the workload and resources between them. However, we suggest that a city-appointed liaison be experienced in the field of immigration. This may seem too specialized a requirement, but we emphasize the importance of the liaison being somebody that the immigrant community would embrace and support.
Another option for the placement of an immigrant liaison within the city is within the Office of Community Engagement or the Office of Equity & Opportunity. Our city comparison research suggests that it would be most effective for us to establish a department within one of these offices for immigrant welcoming. It is important to acknowledge the existence of a role within the Office of Community Engagement as per a past resolution proposed by the Committee for Refugee and Immigrant Affairs. Where this role might fall short is in its conglomeration of the needs of non-immigrants with immigrants. A liaison should be given an expansive list of responsibilities that are particular to servicing Hartford’s top immigrant needs: language access and cultural representation (38 panel references), trust (30 panel references), undocumented status (17 panel references), and employment/workforce (15 mentions). For example, in Philadelphia, PA, there is a department titled the Office of Immigrant Affairs. The office’s description details its commitment to the implementation of policies and programs ensuring access to services that strengthen the well-being of Philadelphia’s immigrant communities. They have a staff of six with supporting interns that help generate policy and coordinate efforts for immigrant welcoming. Each staff member has specific duties, such as language accessibility.
A city liaison position is best suited to address the needs of Hartford’s immigrant community. With the creation of a liaison, key features in successful models around the country could be mimicked. For example, many successful welcoming cities feature websites and hotlines that serve immigrants. Philadelphia, PA, has a website with a compilation of resources for immigrants. They also have a 311 hotline for residents featuring language translation. Another example is Orlando, FL, where the Hispanic Office for Local Assistance exists within the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Their website is brief, but it has a multitude of links related to relocation, access to food and clothing banks, and other services that they do not offer themselves. The website also has descriptions of the services they offer, such as affordable healthcare representatives, legal paperwork assistance, emergency management for businesses and residents, and more. Orlando and Philadelphia have physical offices for immigrant welcoming, not singular city liaisons, but the functions of these office staff members are like a liaison’s responsibilities.
A website should include references to ESL instruction, legal services, transportation, educational resources, digital literacy, and employment opportunities/training among other services. The website, being regulated and updated with the help of the city employee, would give its implementation the means for sustenance. Websites are sometimes the first point of interaction with the city that new residents have, which makes it important to have an organized chain of command in website operations and marketing. Websites also serve as efficient tools for the marketing of social events and gatherings that the city and/or liaison may choose to organize.
The City of Orlando HOLA office provides valuable information and referral services to bilingual residents and newcomers to Central Florida, connecting them with more than 100 government and community organizations to find jobs, healthcare services, educational opportunities and other resources.
Immigrant Affairs Liaison:
3. Immigrant Council
Besides formal offices, many municipalities (at least thirty-five) have developed committees, commissions, and task forces dedicated to immigrant issues. These are less institutionalized, often with a narrow focus and finite set of tasks, but they could be a first step toward creating a formal office. Examples include the Immigrant Integration Task Force in Charlotte, NC, and the Immigrant Task Force in Tucson, AZ.
One of our recommendations for the city of Hartford is to create a council with immigrants, city officials, and stakeholders in the community. The panel would consist of city officials from varying sectors (health, education, public services), private business owners, and diverse immigrant residents. The council should also contain stakeholders who work with the immigrant community, and finally, cultural leaders (sometimes faith-based) that are well respected in their community and representative of the immigrant makeup of Hartford. From the panel discussions and community interviews, we conclude that a council would be an effective and low-budget method for the city to demonstrate its dedication to the immigrant community. Many of the community stakeholders that participated in our panel discussion are eager to continue meeting, as shown by 9/15 panelists referencing sustainability as one of their top issues with the city. Out of the efforts of the Hartford Public Library came CRIA, which through its own council has attempted to institutionalize recommendations similar to our own. The difference here is that CRIA initially proposed a department within the city for immigrant services, a request which was met with the compromise of a single employee given additional responsibilities, acting as a liaison to CRIA. We offer an alternative- a council convened by the city with the objective of producing ongoing discussions. The immigrant council could coordinate events and opportunities for immigrants. One standard for designation as a Welcoming City is the coordination of a Welcoming Week, which the council would be best suited to organize.
“Because right now, there are so many different organizations in Hartford working with immigrants, with refugees, and other vulnerable populations. But there could be more coordination between them… You don’t know where to start.”
Yesenia Conde, Hispanic Health Council addressing the issues of duplication of services and the lack of inter-organizational communication.
The council would be beneficial because it would empower the immigrant community in Hartford to talk about issues that are important to them. One struggle identified through interviews with community stakeholders is the gap in communication between the city and immigrant groups. A council will allow for clear communication between the city, immigrants, and stakeholders. The city would then be able to coordinate and react quickly to problems that arise in this community, helping to improve the experience of immigrants in Hartford. A lot of the problems that immigrants face are relevant to federal politics and changes in policy, therefore it’s important for the city to be constantly adapting to the national climate. In Utica, NY, for example, the welcoming center experienced layoffs and under-utilization following a dramatic change in refugee caps on the national level. An immigrant council would help city government be conscious of the role that the federal government plays in the daily lives of American residents.
Characteristics of Council:
The panel should consist of city officials from the City of Hartford, large municipal stakeholders such as the health department, fire department, and schools. The council would also contain stakeholders who work with the immigrant community, immigrant businesses, and faith-based organizations that are well respected in their community and are representative of the immigrant makeup of Hartford.
- Nine organizational representatives from education, health, cultural sectors
- Nineteen diverse Community Representatives with backgrounds in civic engagement, immigration, business, education, and volunteering
- Mayor Joe Schember said “his administration created the group in part to forge a consistent channel of communication with new Americans.”