Spotlight on Texas: Welcoming efforts thriving at local level, despite state policies

Spotlight on Texas: Welcoming efforts thriving at local level, despite state policies

| July 26, 2017

By Felicia Escobar, Welcoming America Fellow, and Monica Fuentes, Welcoming America DC Office Director

Because of its sheer size, Texas always plays an outsized role in important national debates, including on issues like immigration. It has produced three presidents - two Republicans and one Democrat - who all recognized the tremendous contributions that immigrants make to our country, sought to strengthen our immigration system, and championed critical legislative reforms.  Notably, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, which modernized our immigration laws. And more recently, President George W. Bush established the Department of Homeland Security in an efforts to better coordinate national security and immigration policy and championed comprehensive immigration reform.  

These days, Texas is frequently cited as an unwelcoming and hostile place for immigrants and refugees, with statewide elected officials and legislators championing measures like the “show me your papers” law (SB 4) and calling for the dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). One cannot help but worry about the future of Texas’ diverse culture and the economy that has been driven in part by immigrants. However, like Presidents Johnson and George W. Bush, many Texans believe that there is room in their communities to welcome newcomers and are taking steps to advance integration policies. These stories of local welcoming efforts do not make national headlines, but are having a positive impact on the lives of immigrants. 

Many local governments and community, faith, and business leaders are passionately working to safeguard Texas’ rich tradition of welcoming newcomers. These leaders are not just fighting back against the anti-immigrant state policies, they are also thinking through proactive policies and programs to foster social cohesion, community safety, and a path to upward mobility for all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

Welcoming America learned about some of these initiatives in July, when we convened Texas leaders to discuss how to promote inclusive policies at the municipal level.  The Welcoming Communities Gathering for Texas Leadership in San Antonio was modeled after the regional convenings held across the country as a part of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, a partnership between the Obama Administration’s Task Force on New Americans and Welcoming America.  

The Texas convening  provided a space to brainstorm what else municipal governments can do – in partnership with multi-sector leaders – to create communities that reflect the welcoming and inclusive values that are imperative to Texas’ future prosperity.

Participants heard from municipal and community leaders who are using their unique roles to support immigrants and refugees and bring together receiving communities. Some examples include:

  • Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins emphasized the important role that local municipals leaders can play in setting the tone on hot-button issues such as immigration.  Judge Jenkins has worked to bring together leaders from various sectors and to highlight the enormous economic contributions of immigrants to the Dallas community.  
  • San Antonio City Councilmember Rey Saldaña secured $150,0000 in the City’s mid-year budget adjustment for nonprofit organizations to provide legal and education services to immigrants impacted by recent changes in immigration enforcement policies. With this support, organizations will host Know Your Rights information sessions, power of attorney legal clinics, and citizenship workshops. 
  • Vanna Slaughter, from the newly created Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs (WCIA), provided an update on WCIA’s efforts. In just a few months, the organization has begun to work with local law enforcement to promote public safety as well as  the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty, Dallas Public Libraries, and many others to promote immigrant integration. Later this year, WCIA will host a mega-citizenship workshop.
  • Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, reflected on Houston’s efforts to develop a community-wide vision and plan of action. With support from the Gateways for Growth Challenge, Houston has brought together leaders from a variety of sectors to get feedback and build support for its Welcoming Houston plan. 

Today, one of every six Texans is an immigrant, and many more are a part of immigrant families. These immigrants hail from all parts of the globe. These immigrants are driving the Texas economy. They are job creators, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and workers adding billions to the Texas economy and sales-tax based revenue system. For more information on the economic impact of immigrants to Texas, see here

These examples out of Dallas, San Antonio and Houston provide just a snapshot of the many local welcoming efforts underway.  These leaders understand that immigrants are not just a part of Texas history, but also critical to its future. 

What we learned from this convening is that welcoming cannot just take place in silos but rather that local communities need to lean on each other and learn from one another.  In these challenging times, we hope to continue our dialogue and support peer learning among Texas communities.

Learn more information about Welcoming America's network of Welcoming Cities & Counties.   

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