Local Communities Commit to Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Neighbors

by Mo Kantner


Last week marked the 10-year anniversary of Welcoming Week, an initiative organized by Welcoming America that encourages local communities to bring together neighbors of all backgrounds to build strong connections and affirm the importance of welcoming and inclusive places in our collective prosperity. This year’s theme is Where We Belong, focusing on the physical, mental, and emotional ways in which each of us feel like we belong, whether at school, work, or in our neighborhoods.

Anchored every year around Citizenship Day on September 17, Welcoming Week encourages communities to organize events that allow all residents to feel connected to their neighbors. And this year, communities across the country stepped up in a big way.

Salt Lake County and their Welcoming Salt Lake initiative included a jam-packed week of welcoming events, from a series of Welcoming Challenges for local community members to complete, to a Way to Welcome Bingo Sheet that includes options like eating at an immigrant-owned restaurant, learning a welcoming phrase in a new language, or taking a mock naturalization test.

Intertwined throughout these interactive activities were concrete actions that gave residents the opportunity to support belonging efforts. This included suggestions to contribute items to the Refugee Donation Drive and stories to the Magnify Utah initiative, which aims to connect communities, places, and multicultural stories as a way to better magnify and share the diversifying story of the Utah experience.

In communities like Cincinnati, where immigrants and refugees account for 98% of the region’s recent growth, organizations like Cincinnati Compass organized a kick-off event with the Cincinnati Poet Laureate. The event promoted and celebrated the cultural and economic prosperity that accompanies social and economic inclusion.

In the City of San Diego, the Mayor’s newly established Office of Immigrant Affairs organized a Welcome Note drive that allowed residents across the city to write cards and notes of welcome to newly arriving San Diegans. Similarly, the Northern Kentucky chamber of commerce sponsored a Chalk Walk to curate a space that allowed everyone to feel welcomed.

As a nod to Citizenship Day on September 17, several communities publicly highlighted naturalization ceremonies to celebrate the long and winding journey of newly sworn-in citizens. Mayors and City Council leadership in communities from Tulsa to Roanoke dedicated their time and energy to ensuring these neighbors felt welcomed in their new homes.

Beyond celebrating and uplifting these newly sworn-in neighbors, some communities—from Philadelphia to Boston to Dallas—provided legal assistance for those residents looking to navigate the naturalization process themselves.

When so much of the conversation around immigration occurs at the national level, it can be difficult for state and local communities to understand how they can be a part of creating change and a lasting impact. But initiatives like Welcoming Week are catching on.

What started 10 years ago as a small collection of events in the U.S. has since expanded to reach more than 400 events annually across the world, as local communities come to understand their role in ensuring that everyone feels welcome and belongs, no matter where they come from.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact Reprinted with permission.


About The Author


Mo Kantner is the Director of State and Local Initiatives at the American Immigration Council where she oversees the Council’s work with civic and business leaders in more than 100 communities across the country, working to create inclusive immigration policies in cities, states, and nationally. Mo has over a decade of experience working on local economic and workforce development initiatives through her work in the City of New York, on workforce services for vulnerable populations, and through her work in the City of San Diego, overseeing initiatives aimed at growing and fostering fledgling industries in the border region. She has an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management from New York University, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.