Most Popular - Highlights | Welcoming America

Category: Most Popular - Highlights

#WelcomingWeek Staff Picks

Welcoming America | August 20, 2015

Forget the headlines; here's what American communities really think about immigrants. From New Hampshire to Kentucky, Oregon to Georgia, communities gear up to celebrate #WelcomingWeek. And from community potlucks to soccer in the streets, New Americans are being welcomed by their neighbors. Check out some of these great events happening around the country chosen by Welcoming America staff  including why they think it's a great #WelcomingWeek event: 

xCultural Passport to PHL Week - Philadelphia, PA

Hosted by: Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs "This schedule of events is truly representative of the welcoming spirit and is incredibly diverse, with offerings surely to pique anyone's interest. Welcoming America truly applauds MOIMA for its massive effort to offer an amazing slate of events every Welcoming Week!"

Welcoming Week Potluck - Lexington, KY

Hosted by: Kentucky Refugee Ministries "It shows that neighbors can do simple things - like coming together to break bread across difference - in order to welcome new refugees and immigrants into the community."

Community Picnic - Grand Forks, ND

Hosted by: Global Friends Coalition "Welcoming Week is all about diverse communities coming together, and food, music, games, and conversation are all great ways for community members to bond."

Welcoming Michigan Statewide Convening - Warren, MI

Hosted by: Welcoming Michigan "It's exciting to see a whole state coming together for a Welcoming Week event!"

Momo Monday - North Olmsted, OH

Hosted by: US Together "I love the idea of coming together around the shared language of food. Plus who doesn't want Nepali dumplings?!"

Beaverton Night Market - Beaverton, OR

Hosted by: City of Beaverton’s Diversity Advisory Board "They are embodying the spirit of welcoming by trying something new in their community, and the evening event has all the hallmarks of smart design--it's after hours for most people, it has lots of positive economic and cultural objectives, and it gets people out and about in contact with each other. Exciting!"

Soccer in the Streets - Atlanta, GA

Hosted by: Welcoming Atlanta, At lanta Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs "I love the common language of sports and soccer is as universal as you get. Especially when you're playing in the heart of a community as opposed to at a stadium."

Cultural Greetings & Hospitality - Jacksonville, FL

Hosted by: Jacksonville Refugee Community Services "A learned kind word or a hospitable gesture is sometimes all it takes to make anyone feel welcome. Adding fashion and ritualized coffee (all under an umbrella of cultural awareness)--that's a Saturday afternoon event that works for me!"

Mission Impact Council Community Summit - St. Paul, MN

Hosted by: YMCA Twin Cities' Mission Impact Council "It is a targeted youth call to action. In reflecting on how we could all be more 'welcoming' it truly starts with the youth that will have the capacity to carry this for generations in our fast changing country.This events looks at many barriers from a holistic approach to bridge the gap. I am all about the young people and empowering them no matter what you background is or your circumstances are. Bringing them together fosters understanding and tolerance for all!"

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Rust Belt Cities Embrace Immigrants as Key to Future

Welcoming America | July 9, 2015

A growing number of Rust Belt cities are embracing immigrants as a means of revitalizing urban neighborhoods and spurring local economic growth, and will be participating in this year’s Dayton Convening. As a more welcoming approach to immigration spreads quickly across the Rust Belt - and pays off for local economies – a new field of practice is picking up steam.

The WE Global Network Convening in Dayton reveals the momentum that the field of immigrant economic development is experiencing. The number of local initiatives participating in this year’s Convening has more than doubled since the initial Convening in Detroit only two years ago. Attracting attention of the White House and national experts, the Convening’s expected attendance demonstrates the WE Global Network’s value and the Rust Belt’s position as a national leader in efforts to attract and retain global talent.

Keynote speaker Felicia Escobar, White House Special Assistant to President Obama for Immigration Policy, who played a key role in the creation and implementation of the first-ever federal immigrant integration policy, will speak about the White House Task Force on New Americans. Ms. Escobar’s attendance demonstrates the White House’s recognition of the WE Global Network and the work of local initiatives across the Rust Belt.

More than 250 attendees from across the country are expected at the Convening, which takes place all day Thursday, July 9th at the Dayton Convention Center. Hosted by Welcoming America, Welcome Dayton, the City of Dayton, City of Dayton Human Relations Council, and Global Detroit, it includes numerous workshops and panels designed to highlight cutting edge policies, successful programs, and innovative ideas in the emerging field of immigrant economic development.

Priority areas for the day’s sessions mirror Welcome Dayton’s five focus areas – including business and economic development, community culture and arts, education, government and justice, and health and social services – that guide Dayton’s immigrant integration work. “We believe we have something for cities and economic development leaders across the Rust Belt at this year’s convening,” said Melissa Bertolo, Welcome Dayton Program Coordinator. “The list of speakers represents the nation’s leaders in this emerging field of immigrant economic development.”

The Welcome Dayton initiative has been credited with reversing population decline, boosting economic competitiveness and vitality, and expanding opportunities for an increasingly diverse community. According to a report released today by the Partnership for a New American Economy, "Welcome to Dayton: How Immigrants are Helping to Grow Dayton's Economy and Reverse Population Decline," Dayton has really reaped the benefits of its immigrant economic development efforts. Dayton’s immigrants show exceptionally high rates of entrepreneurship (15.3% are self employed, over twice the average for their native-born counterparts), and possessed more than $115 million in spending power and contributed more than $15 million in state and local taxes annually. The PNAE report underscores why Dayton is the perfect backdrop for hosting the WE Global Network’s 3rd Convening and the growing movement of leaders pursuing immigrant economic development opportunities for their communities.

“Welcoming America is excited to use the WE Global Convening to release the first-ever Guide to Immigrant Economic Development,” said Welcoming America Director David Lubell. Authored by Global Detroit Director Steve Tobocman, the guide “Responds to the growing demand from communities looking to start or enhance an initiative to spark growth in their city and local economy by better integrating immigrants and the skills, entrepreneurial spirit, talent, and energy they bring to local economies,” added Lubell. As more communities in the Rust Belt recognize the value of immigrants to their local economies, this guide, and the Convening, can provide a framework to help them develop their own initiatives based on their local needs and infrastructure.

Read the guide

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From Guyana to the U.S.

Welcoming America | June 22, 2015

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, Welcoming America's Keiron Bone Dormegnie shares his grandfather's immigration story with us. Read on to learn about Louis Bone's journey to the United States to pursue his passion and a better life for his family. You can read more inspirational immigration stories at

In 1957, my grandfather, Louis Woolford Bone, started a long American voyage. “Louie” left his birth home in the South American colony of British Guiana to enter a doctoral program at the University of Chicago. In his mid-30’s with six children, a wife, and a large extended family in the city of Georgetown, Guyana, he left the country to continue his studies at a renowned institution of higher education.

Booming Chicago urbanity was a mecca for other black, Asian, and third-world peoples. It lay just above the Jim Crow South of racial segregation, poor white farmers, and dilapidated schools for black children interspersed with the privileged elite. A self-educated school teacher, Louis had originally entered a bachelor’s program in Puerto Rico, but his professor soon invited him to transfer to the University of Chicago on a PhD track.

From the sugarcane estates of his South American roots to the cold, great lake-hugging Chicago, Louis honed his analysis and research skills among world-class academics. In three short years, he completed a thesis on variations of colonial education among the English, French, and Dutch Guiana, former European colonies in South America.

Louis returned to British Guiana as the country’s first American trained PhD in education. He designed corporate training programs and implemented methodologies to train teachers in pre-independent Guyana. His training and ability to travel was in part thanks to the U.S. post-World War II economic boom – one of the longest periods of economic prosperity lasting until the late 1970’s – and to the U.S. willingness to welcome a young man from a different shore.

With his children becoming college-aged and the economic shackles of colonialism, Louis chose to find work in the U.S. and provide for their various educational endeavors. Ultimately, my father and his siblings completed their university degrees across the U.S., the Caribbean, and the U.K. Louis joined the faculty of a historically black college in Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1960’s where he improved student success through early remediation programs, and obtained grants for constructing new facilities for the campus. He became a card-carrying Republican, built a network of U.S. friends over 30 years, and retired as a college administrator of Benedict College.  

Now, at age 93, Louis is back in Georgetown, Guyana. Crossword puzzles take a bit longer, and his tolerance for too much movement has diminished. But the gratitude at the opportunities the U.S. has offered him and his family still exist. Thanks to welcoming teachers, classmates, and groups in the U.S., he created a lasting legacy to prepare generations of African American professionals and leaders in South Carolina.

This year I celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month because people like my grandfather are part of the international, multiracial fabric molding America and developing tools of understanding for the world around us. In many ways, my America is still striving to live up to its founding ideals, still learning, healing social wounds, and connecting the spaces between newcomers and long-term residents – but through building highways, quiet nurturing spaces, and healthy connections between our world’s tribes, we can continue to live and strive for the ideal in which all people are welcomed and have the full opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.

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New Report on Welcoming in Nashville

Welcoming America | June 17, 2015

Today, Welcoming America released a new study, Welcoming Nashville: Perspectives and Trends, which provides further evidence of how communities are benefiting economically from a welcoming climate for immigrants and all residents. The study, conducted by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Research Center, surveyed community and business leaders around the economic benefits of immigrant welcome to Nashville, which in recent years led the country in job growth. The Center concluded that Nashvilles efforts to welcome and incorporate a vibrant, growing immigrant population has helped create tangible economic gains across the city and across sectors. Other key findings include:

  • Over 80% of business and community leaders in Nashville feel that immigrants have helped businesses reach a more global audience.
  • A large majority agree that it is important for there to be a continued climate of welcome, including continued support from local Nashvillians and access to a variety of services and programs to improve immigrants’ full participation.
  • Seven out of ten leaders believe immigrants help make Nashville a more innovative and productive economy.
  • A majority believe that immigrants have been important to the success of their own organizations.

“Nashville is gaining an economic edge through its welcoming efforts, which have helped attract trade, investment, and diverse talent," said Welcoming America Executive Director, David Lubell,  "If they want to compete in a global economy, cities can no longer afford to hit the snooze button on immigrant integration. This research underscores that business and civic leaders not only derive value from proactive welcoming efforts, but they want to see even more of them.” Accompanying the report, a new infographic also explains how Nashville has benefited from its welcoming climate.

  This research builds on prior findings that Nashville has benefited economically from its welcoming policy and culture. A report by AS/COA and the Fiscal Policy Institute recently found that immigrants helped transform neighborhoods and supported the economic revitalization enjoyed by the city as a whole.  Immigrants are also over-represented among the self-employed; they make up 12% of the total population but 13.9% of small business owners. In addition, the Partnership for a New American Economy’s research shows that the growth in Davidson County’s foreign-born population between 2000 and 2010 increased the county’s housing wealth by nearly $1 billion ($967,535,478).

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Diversity is essential for Boise's prosperity and livability

Welcoming America | April 27, 2015

We are pleased to announce a guest blog post from Boise Mayor David Bieter. Boise was one of the first cities to join our Welcoming Cities & Counties Initiative in 2013, and we are thrilled to share what Boise is doing to welcome all its residents.

Boise is a city built by immigrants. It's one of our great strengths.

Like my grandfather Lorenzo Garmendia, who arrived in Boise from the Basque Country almost a century ago, the people who have come from around the world to live, work, and raise their families in this beautiful place, decade after decade, have done so with creativity and purpose. And that has helped to make our city, and all of Idaho, stronger and more prosperous.

Our diverse past is documented in Ethnic Landmarks, a book produced by Boise State University in 2007 that details the crucial contributions of 10 separate ethnic groups to the development of Boise.

Our diverse present is exemplified by our Neighbors United Network, a coalition of more than 20 government agencies, educational institutions, health care providers, community groups, and faith organizations that work to assist refugees in becoming economically integrated in our community. Over the past two decades, more than 11,000 refugees have resettled in Boise, adding tremendously to the richness of our ethnic and cultural landscape. Just last week, Neighbors United was praised by the White House Task Force on New Americans in a report, "Strengthening Communities by Welcoming All Residents"

Which brings us to our diverse future. Two years ago, the Boise City Council unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment, housing, and public accommodation. None of the dire consequences that were predicted by the ordinance's critics have come to pass. And similar laws are being adopted by cities around Idaho, because they recognize that a welcoming community is one that attracts talent and resources.

If Boise is to maintain and enhance its livability, we must continue to celebrate and support our diversity and ensure that everyone who lives here has an opportunity to succeed.

A potent symbol of that opportunity, and that success, appears this Saturday with the grand opening of the Boise International Market at the corner of Franklin and Curtis roads. More than two years in the planning, the market provides both startup assistance and a public marketplace for multicultural businesses specializing in international products, food, art, music, and dance. With more than two dozen vendors and restaurants at its launch, BIM demonstrates just how important our city's diversity is to our economic development.

There's more work to do. The Responsible Business Initiative, an initiative led by Boise State and supported by Wells Fargo, the City, and multiple community partners, will continue throughout the year to discuss the importance of diversity in business and what owners and citizens can do to support it.

Diversity isn't a buzzword. It's our birthright. 

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Ideas that Innovate | WE Global Toolkit

Welcoming America | April 22, 2015


The WE Global Network launches today IDEAS THAT INNOVATE, a collection of state and local public policies that further efforts to pursue immigrant economic development strategies.

Many WE Global Network local actors have been approached by municipal officials, state legislators, and other elected officials who acknowledge the research and economic case for immigrant economic development, but who lack specific public policy measures that they can consider to support our work.

As an increasing number of Rust Belt communities realize the enormous contributions that immigrants make to local economic growth and prosperity, new and innovative economic development initiatives are being launched to build more inclusive and welcoming economies. As rapid as these local programmatic initiatives are being launched, innovations also are being pursued by state and local public policymakers. This collection can assist immigrant economic development players and policymakers working together toward more welcoming and inclusive communities. The chapters provide resources to help you explore replicating these ideas in your community.


The initial collection focuses on seven state and local best practices, but networks are encouraged to suggest other state and local policies that should be highlighted and replicated.

f you have ideas for additional Ideas that Innovate, please contact WE Global Network at [email protected]

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Announcing the WE Global Network

Welcoming America | April 15, 2015



Today, Welcoming AmericaGlobal Detroit, and more than a dozen economic development initiatives throughout the nation’s Rust Belt launched the Welcoming Economies Global Network (WE Global Network). The network is comprised of groups from 10 states across the Midwest working to tap into the economic development opportunities created by welcoming immigrants.

This launch comes on the heels of yesterday’s White House release of a report featuring the WE Global Network as one of its national best practices. Created by the White House Task Force on New Americans, the report affirms that immigrants and refugees contribute significantly to the continued economic prosperity of the U.S. and are critical to our country’s social and cultural fabric. The report is available at

“In the 20th century, the Rust Belt housed industrial powerhouses like the U.S. steel, coal, and auto industries, but today it is entrepreneurial partnerships between immigrants and local communities that are fueling the region’s economies,” said David Lubell, Executive Director of Welcoming America. “The WE Global Network recognizes that if we’re to remain competitive in the global economy, we must support and maximize the efforts of local initiatives that welcome, retain, integrate, and empower immigrant communities.”

Join the Network

The WE Global Network invites governments, nonprofits, and economic development organizations that welcome, retain, and empower immigrant communities in the 10-state region to join. Members benefit from peer-to-peer learning exchanges, increased publicity, policy and research tools developed for immigrant economic development organizations, access to technical assistance, and other capacity building resources.

Attend the WE Global Network 3rd Annual Convening

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History in the Making

Welcoming America | April 14, 2015

Today, the White House announced a historic step toward creating the nation’s first federal integration strategy – one that recognizes the importance of local efforts to build welcoming environments where immigrants and long-time residents join together to create stronger communities. Read the report and fact sheet.

The leadership of our partners across the country who are at the forefront of community-based initiatives helped shape and inspire this strategy and are recognized throughout the report as being among the nation’s most promising efforts. The report to the President was presented today by the White House Task Force on New Americans, an inter-agency effort to develop a coordinated federal strategy to better integrate immigrants and refugees and build welcoming communities. The Task Force was created as part of the President's immigration accountability executive actions. The full report and further information – including the Task Force’s plan to carry out its work – will be available soon at

We applaud the White House for recognizing that immigrant and refugee integration make our country stronger and that the federal government can and should do more to support the burgeoning movement of welcoming communities across the country. These efforts are at the cutting edge of helping our country remain economically competitive and culturally vibrant – the kind of place that people from around the world want to come to start a business, invest in communities, and make a better life for themselves and their families. This national policy is the first of its kind and affirms our nation’s leadership as a beacon of freedom and opportunity for all. Welcoming City and County elected officials from across the country have come out in support of the announcement:

  • “Our neighborhoods are stronger and safer when every individual feels valued and included in their city’s social and economic fabric and every child has access to the American dream. Today’s report released by President Obama’s Task Force on New Americans focuses on actionable steps communities can take to build bridges between long-time residents and newcomers, and I look forward to incorporating the Task Force’s recommendations to support our local inclusion efforts in Atlanta.” – Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed
  • “Our goal, since the creation of Welcome Dayton, is to ensure all of our residents, including new Americans, feel welcomed, have access to needed services, and can take advantage of Dayton’s many opportunities.” – Dayton, Ohio Commissioner Matt Joseph
  • “This report reaffirms what we in Dayton already know: our cities and economy are stronger when we allow people to fully integrate into our communities. We are proud to again be recognized as a model for the national welcoming movement that is vital to the Country’s success.” – Dayton, Ohio Mayor Nan Whaley
  • “The City of Boston is proud to be a city of immigrants, and I am proud to be a son of immigrants. Through the Mayor's Office of New Bostonians, our City has extensive experience in promoting the integration of our foreign-born residents. Therefore, with the input of multiple city departments, I submitted recommendations to this Task Force focusing on Public Health, K-12 Education, Economic Development & Small Business, and Adult Education & Workforce Training. I am honored that the White House has recognized Boston as a leading city in fostering a welcoming environment so that all members of our communities have opportunities to contribute and thrive.” – Boston Mayor Marty Walsh
  • “Boise is a city built by immigrants, including my own Basque ancestors. That process is still happening today through our city’s three decade-long role as refugee resettlement community. The White House’s recognition today of the Neighbors United partnership confirms what Boiseans have long known – that our city’s vision for supporting the integration of all of our residents into the fabric of our community and our economy makes us all stronger. Boise has long been a place where people came from around the world to find economic opportunity and build a better life.” - Boise Mayor David Bieter
  • "As a global city, Los Angeles' economic success depends on integrating our hard-working immigrant communities into our civic tapestry, and that's why I established a Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. "I am honored by the White House's recognition of my commitment to keep our city and country prospering and proud that our work serves as a model for other cities." - Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

The plan affirms that New Americans contribute significantly to the United States’ social and cultural fabric and are also critical to our country’s continued economic prosperity. Among the key strategies are:

  • Building welcoming communities, including efforts to support existing local efforts through a variety of new channels while also encouraging more communities to implement local integration activities and plans
  • Strengthening existing pathways to naturalization and promoting civic engagement, which includes a variety of strategies to promote naturalization, bolster integration initiatives, increase awareness of the contributions of New Americans to our country, and encourage New Americans to serve as volunteers
  • Supporting skill development, fostering entrepreneurship and small business growth, and protecting New American workers, which includes strategies ranging from helping more New Americans access small business opportunities and training to supporting career pathways
  • Expanding opportunities for linguistic integration and education, which includes cradle-to-career strategies to enhance access to high-quality language acquisition and increase opportunities for post-secondary education and training

The Action Plan places a strong emphasis on the principles and recommendations put forward by Welcoming America, placing a strong emphasis on efforts that build bridges between immigrants and receiving communities. The following excerpts from the plan demonstrate how these will be core to future federal and community efforts:

“The Obama Administration is guided by the core principle that being American is about more than what we look like or where we come from. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal — that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. By bringing immigrants, refugees, and receiving communities together around integration strategies, we create communities with a welcoming culture and strengthen our ability to ensure that all community members have the tools and opportunities to succeed and fully contribute to our nation.

"In order to ensure successful integration, the Task Force seeks to support and increase the capacity of receiving communities to build welcoming communities. Ultimately, these efforts will require a multifaceted and cross-sector strategy that leverages existing efforts by key stakeholders, all working in partnership with receiving communities.

"Integration is not something immigrants and refugees can achieve in isolation; welcoming environments are necessary to ensure successful outcomes that benefit local communities as well as our nation. For effective integration, we need a comprehensive national and local effort that draws on the strengths and capacity of all sectors of society and all levels of government — a “whole of society” approach.

"Communities play a vital role in welcoming immigrants by celebrating and valuing their diverse linguistic and cultural assets, connecting new residents to long-time residents, and building support networks to assist in integration and community cohesion. Like any relationship, the relationship between immigrants and their communities must be a two-way process with shared opportunities and responsibilities.

"The Task Force takes inspiration from the Welcoming Communities Movement, which engages receiving communities and creates welcoming environments for all community members. This movement is focused on building 21st century communities that attract and retain global talent and investment.”

The Task Force aims to further strengthen the federal government’s integration efforts by making them more strategic and deliberate and to outline the federal government’s goals to bolster its integration efforts nationwide and build welcoming communities. Its efforts are led by Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and León Rodríguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and involve sixteen federal departments, agencies, and White House offices. In the coming months, the Task Force will be guided by key goals identified in this plan. This December, it will also submit a progress report to the President.

Welcoming America looks forward to continuing to work with our incredible network of partners to grow and deepen the welcoming communities movement, recognizing that this historic moment is an affirmation of the national importance of this work and a celebration of the work that each of our partners does every day to strengthen communities and build understanding, cooperation, and prosperity. We are proud to have collaborated with National Partnership for New Americans, Global Detroit, and many others in advancing recommendations. Learn more about the recommendations.

Finally, we share this happy news with heavy hearts as we also mourn the loss of a dear friend and leader in the movement for immigrant dignity, Cathy Han Montoya.  Our hearts go out to Cathy’s family and all those who feel this great loss. For ways that you can support Cathy’s family, please stay tuned on our Facebook page.

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Announcing the Paul and Daisy Soros 2015 Fellows

Welcoming America | April 14, 2015

Immigrants are contributors to our country – a fact that this is clearer than ever today as the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans announces its 2015 fellows. The fellowship provides remarkable first- and second-generation immigrants with the opportunity to achieve leadership in their chosen fields by providing funding to support their graduate studies. This year’s class represents a diverse cross sector of subjects, such as law, music, mathematics, writing, medicine, and business, as well as over 20 countries.  For all their diversity of interests and accomplishments, however, the fellows – and other New Americans like them – share a common characteristic: the potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society and culture. In celebration of this year’s class and the value of all immigrants, below are profiles of a few of the fellows and what they believe communities can do to become more welcoming. Applications are now open for the 2016 class of the fellowship and are due November 1, 2015 at 11:50pm EST. To learn more, visit

Amal Elbakhar

Amal Elbakhar was born in Casablanca, Morocco and moved to New York City with her parents at the age of 9. Two of her biggest hurdles to adjusting to life in the U.S. included the language barrier and having to figure out systems – such as how to apply to school – entirely on her own. Neither of her parents has a high school diploma, and they knew nothing about the application process for New York City high schools or college admissions. However, mentorship has played a major positive role in Amal’s life, and she credits her mentors with helping her achieve her goals and pursue new opportunities; for example, one of Amal’s professors at Macaulay Honors College would sit with her every week to help her with her thesis, and her supervisors at New York University Medical Center encouraged her to take on new opportunities. Growing up, Amal also had to navigate the space between two cultures, including asserting her goals over the expectation that she would become a housewife. Through this experience, her cultural background, and a love for politics and law, she decided to study women’s rights issues at Harvard Law School. She hopes to work in the New York State Sex Trafficking Unit and help advance laws that promote women's rights.

On welcoming

According to Amal, finding resources is among the biggest hurdles for New Americans, underlying the importance for communities to help immigrants access them. When Amal was young, the library in Queens – which held weekly sessions on English language learning, typing, and resume creation – proved to be an important resource for her family. Ultimately, Amal believes the most effective way to get anything does is to be inclusive: “I’m a big fan of inclusion….My goal is to make sure every group is inclusive at Harvard Law School.”

Ayan Hussein

Ayan Hussein is a Somali refugee who resettled in Clarkston, Georgia with her family as a teenager in 2003. Ayan faced challenges growing up, both at a Kenyan refugee camp and in the U.S. She remembers being bullied in her freshman year of high school, but she did not let it stop her from taking advantage of the opportunities the U.S. provided her and focused her energies on her education. Although her family was unfamiliar with the U.S. school system, mentors helped her find her way. She went on to receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship and attended the University of Georgia, where she continued to challenge herself academically. Now, she is pursuing a PhD in biological and biomedical sciences at Yale University. Her goal is to become a principal investigator and a professor of neuroscience and play a role in increasing the percentage of women faculty, especially women of color. Following in the footsteps of her mentors, Ayan is also giving back through the Gates Millennium Ambassador program, with which she helps underserved students of diverse backgrounds apply for the scholarship. She is proud of her work through the ambassador program and says it is one of her greatest accomplishments.

On welcoming

Says Ayan, “We were able to flourish because the community was genuinely happy for us to be there.” She recalls members of a church knocking on doors to get them engaged in the community. They invited her family to events around town, including a barbeque. “Kind gestures [like these] helped us to feel like a part of the community.”

Cecil Benitez

Cecil Benitez was born in Durango, Mexico. Because of the lack of job and educational opportunities in the country, her mother moved to California and eventually brought Cecil to the U.S. as well, where she thought Cecil would have a better future. While the U.S. is considered the land of opportunity, Cecil recalls being in constant fear of deportation and the police. She remembers cringing when seeing an officer. At the same time, she was young and did not understand the laws or the concept of borders and could not understand why her family was treated differently. “It was a weird feeling as a child,” said Cecil. She felt like an outsider throughout her childhood especially when her classmates would make hurtful comments about undocumented immigrants. She felt like she had to hide. Despite these challenges, Cecil has persevered, attending the University of California, Los Angeles for her Bachelor’s and pursuing her PhD in developmental biology at Stanford University. Of her interest in research, she says, “I had no idea what research was….I learned what it was in college, and I got to really engage with the materials and was really interested in the questions.” Cecil is now pursuing an MD at Stanford Medical School and wants to ultimately provide underserved patients with resources and link those who don’t have insurance to free healthcare. She decided to pursue her MD because it incorporates her love of research in developmental biology and her interest in working with people.

On welcoming

“It’s important to the community itself, [which maximizes immigrants’ ability to] contribute and make an impact. As new immigrants, we have a lot of things to offer….We really want to contribute to the U.S. The U.S. has provided me with so many opportunities, and I feel a responsibility to give back.”

About the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship

Established in 1997, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program annually supports thirty New Americans, immigrants or the children of immigrants, who are pursuing graduate school in the United States. Each fellowship supports up to two years of graduate study – in any field and in any advanced degree-granting program – in the United States. The 2015 class of Fellows includes researchers, mathematicians, writers, scientists, translators, musicians, entrepreneurs, and future doctors and lawyers as well as the first-ever Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow in the field of nursing. 

The fellows hail from China, Vietnam, Iran, Nigeria, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Albania, Ukraine, Morocco, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Libya, Poland, Russia, Peru, Israel, Oman, Brazil, and the United States.

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Welcoming Cities & Counties Reaches 50 Members

Welcoming America | March 31, 2015

  The immigrant welcoming movement has hit a major milestone: Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties program has reached 50 members with the recent addition of the City of Decatur, Georgia. In under two years, the Welcoming Cities and Counties program has grown from 18 members to 50 members, more than doubling the number of municipalities dedicated to welcoming immigrants. “The pace of enrollment continues to pick up; 50 cities and counties is really just the tip of the iceberg. It won’t be too long before all localities will feel they are falling behind if they don’t move in this direction,” Lubell said.

The City of Decatur, Georgia, which recently joined, is the 4th city in Georgia and 50th city nationally to announce it would participate in the program and commit to adopting policies and practices that promote inclusion within local government and the broader community.

In sharp contrast to inaction in Congress, communities nationwide are moving full steam ahead to embrace immigration as vital to their future prosperity. “What we’re seeing is a growing number of local governments who recognize that they can create stronger communities where everyone is valued. Building on the strengths and talents of all residents – including immigrants – is simply good policy,” said David Lubell, Executive Director of Welcoming.

A unique feature of Welcoming America’s program is that local governments are encouraged to work with community based organizations and the private sector to engage the broader community in a dialogue around their changing demographics. These innovations have continued to drive growing participation from communities who want to gain a competitive edge by becoming more inclusive. Learn more about the policies and programs being created across the country.  

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