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Center for American Progress Panel Discusses How to Welcome New Immigrants into Communities

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center for american progressThe Center for American Progress (CAP) released a new report today entitled “All Immigration is Local: Receiving Communities and Their Role in Successful Immigrant Integration,” which discusses what happens when a community reacts negatively to an influx of new immigrants.  Old, established neighborhoods begin to look different, and their longtime residents become anxious.  No one talks about the change, no one addresses their fears, and their caution towards change breeds hostility, xenophobia, even violence.

That’s what happened in Patchogue, New York in 2008, when a group of white teenagers stabbed Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero to death, part of a string of unrecognized violence that youth in the town called “beaner hopping.”  The story of Lucero’s death and what happened in Patchogue afterward has been made into a documentary “Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness,” to be aired on PBS tomorrow night.

CAP screened part of “Not in Our Town” earlier today before a panel convened to discuss the “All Immigration is Local” report (we livetweeted it here).  The panel stressed the importance of talking to communities that receive influxes of newcomers (“receiving communities”) about immigration, and maintaining a dialogue between newcomers and locals.

As the CAP report says:

How can we expect immigrants to integrate successfully if they feel unwelcome or if their neighbors are not prepared to accept them? And how can we expect their neighbors to welcome them if no effort is made to manage the confusion, fear, and anxiety these neighbors feel about the changing nature of community life? Receiving communities—the places, along with their residents, in which newcomers settle—must be engaged before we can expect them to embrace immigrants.

The proposed solution is fourfold:

  1. First, local leaders—city politicians, police officers, and others who are respected—must be engaged in reaching out to new residents and integrating them into the receiving community.

  2. Dialogue and common ground must be established between immigrants and the native born.

  3. Local governments must be willing to reach out to newcomers.

  4. Local concerns about immigrants and immigration must be listened to, and addressed. 

As panelist David Lubell, Executive Director of Welcoming America said, often “when a neighborhood changes, people have fears and no one talks about it.  And then talk radio hosts fill this void.”

What happens when no action is taken?  More communities like Patchogue, New York spring up, and violence towards one group ultimately leads to instability for all residents.  As panelist Laurent Gilbert, the Mayor of Lewiston, Maine said, “We really find that we’re one humanity.  The more we interact with each other is to our own benefit.”

Read CAP’s full report here.