This post is by Michelle Burgess of NLC’s Center for Research and Innovation’s Municipal Action for Immigration (MAII) program.
Imagine for a moment that you are an immigrant to the United States. You hope to make this new country your home, and yet, many of the customs and culture confuse you. Most likely, you have a limited grasp of the English language, and like 20% of the American population, you speak a language other than English at home. Despite your efforts to absorb the language, you face a steep learning curve and struggle to communicate in this new environment. Simple processes and ways of doing things no longer make sense, as they do not match your cultural expectations. Amidst all of these adjustments, you’re trying to start a new life and provide for your family. Yet, in many cases, you do not know where or how to start.
Depending on where you have come from, you may distrust authorities as you’re accustomed and expecting entrenched abuses of corruption, inefficiency or violence. Alternatively, you may be unaware that government or community services even exist. If you do know about certain community resources, you most likely remain unaware of the process required to access or sign up for them.
This is where resource access programs can play a role in immigrant integration. While direct services in health care, education, housing, etc., help transition and settle immigrants into an area, resource access strategies of referrals, multilingual outreach and availability are equally important in connecting new arrivals with these existing resources. NLC’s Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration (MAII) program’s new city practice brief, Immigrant Integration: Resource Access and Cultural Exchange profiles some of these successful city and community programs that connect immigrants into existing city resources. This framework of outreach and education teaches immigrants not only about city resources, but also about civic responsibilities.
The new brief also highlights successful strategies to build support and understanding within the established community. Integration works two ways, and these cultural exchange initiatives strengthen the other side of resource access – having a community that recognizes and provides for the diversity and integration within its neighborhoods.
As a new immigrant, you face a multitude of challenges to adapt and integrate into the United States. Programs like the ones profiled in Immigrant Integration: Resource Access and Cultural Exchange can help make that transition easier through guidance and support. For cities facing demographic change, these programs can also ease the transition, not only by strengthening immigrant integration but also by informing long-term residents about the changes occurring within their communities.