Immigrant Integration in Houston: Building Upon A Strong Foundation
As we inform our work in the federal government around immigrant integration it is of critical importance to hear from communities across the country who are working everyday with immigrant communities, providing critical support for civic, linguistic and economic integration. This past week, I had the opportunity to travel to Houston---one of the most diverse cities in the nation home to 88 consulates, the third largest consular corps in the nation with a very strong infrastructure of organizations and community leaders who are committed to providing resources to people who are working to fully integrate into American society. A few things we heard and learned in our conversation there with folks who represented the local city government and community based organizations serving Latino and Asian immigrants:
- Immigrant integration is something that works two ways – it’s about the immigrant themselves but also about the receiving communities. Houston is recognized to have a more favorable receiving community climate for immigrants than many cities and generally has well-informed stakeholders and community leaders.
- Citizenship and naturalization work regularly occurs and is coordinated through partnerships championed by the Mayor's Office and community based organizations working together. Programs like a micro-loan program for naturalization fees and English as a Second Language programs are highly successful and oversubscribed so Houston leaders are always working for ways to build on programs that are working.
- Integration and intercultural success happens locally; but, the federal government can help in overarching ways to outreach, promote citizenship, and increase access to agency information and support (both funding and reduced fees), as well as to take increased enforcement and public awareness action against those preying on immigrant communities through interagency efforts like the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law Initiative.
It’s important to note that the federal government doesn’t “do” immigrant integration. We work to support the efforts of states, localities and community-based organization to build a strong foundation in communities across the country. The listening sessions we are holding across the country are helping us to identify ways we can be the strongest federal partner and can be supportive of the great work communities across the country like Houston are already doing.
Stephanie Valencia is the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.