How Immigration Affects Native-Born Americans
Immigration often means big changes for a community. The Welcoming Center recognizes that the impact on native-born Americans can be significant. If newcomers are not well incorporated, the result can be tension and conflict. On the other hand, healthy and productive integration can create culturally and economically stronger neighborhoods.
In some cases, the change brought by immigration can feel like a loss. Longtime residents miss the neighborhood they grew up in, and worry about how a new community will come together. Newcomers arrive full of dreams and hopes for their own future, and may not be aware of the traditions of the area to which they are moving.
We see immigrant integration as a two-way street that depends on goodwill and adaptation from both newcomers and long-term residents. To this end, we work closely with “receiving communities” around the Philadelphia region.
Although established neighborhoods often have strong social bonds and a solid sense of place, they can face economic challenges. We help newcomers to contribute to economic revitalization by starting businesses and paying taxes, while also participating constructively in the social life of the community.
How We Work With Receiving Communities
The Welcoming Center has developed specific, purposeful activities to help receiving communities respond constructively to influxes of immigrants. In the last seven years, we have used these tools in our work with neighborhood groups, business associations, community development corporations, and educational and religious organizations. As an unanticipated but very positive side effect, we have found that resources originally developed for immigrant entrepreneurs are also highly valued by US-born business owners, who often feel locked out of opportunities and are struggling to access government and other small-business services.
Our work is based on nationally recognized research and principles as well as our own deep experience. We are keenly aware that while introductory activities such as “food, fun and festivals” are a valuable starting place, they must be followed by more robust activities to help a community truly absorb significant change.
A few of our tools include:
- Community engagement. Through facilitated town hall meetings and informed presentations, the Welcoming Center has brought together immigrant and native-born community leaders, business owners, legislators, and the general public. Careful design and highly trained facilitators ensure that the dialogue remains constructive rather than perpetuating misperceptions. Topics have included immigrant integration in commercial corridors, immigration’s impact on housing prices, and immigration in the suburbs.
- Practical guidebooks. From our “How to Start a Business” guides to step-by-step handbooks for professional licensing, our publications are designed to provide clear, straightforward information to all audiences. Our Merchant Safety Guide includes tips to help merchants reduce their isolation and build friendly connections with customers and fellow entrepreneurs. Publications are disseminated online as well as through libraries and other venues open to all community residents.
- Commercial corridor outreach. Our trained, cross-ethnic teams make in-store visits to build relationships with business owners, and gather information through frequent conversations. Our ground-level data collection goes far beyond what is typically available through other sources, and includes details about business health, storeowner concerns, and owner demographics. We use this information not only to assist individual entrepreneurs with their questions, but also to tailor advice for local business associations and other groups working across cultural lines to improve the vitality of commercial corridors.
- Informing public opinion. Some of the biggest challenges in immigrant integration come from misperceptions. The Welcoming Center sponsors regular public forums and events to provide factual, low-intensity presentations by informed experts. From immigration’s impact on housing prices to the growing trend of immigration in the suburbs, our events help both new and longtime community members to understand the changes affecting their neighborhoods.
- Youth services. Between 2005-2011, the Welcoming Center worked with students at South Philadelphia High School. Our Project Bridging Cultures created a safe space for immigrant and American-born students to interact informally with each other as they worked toward greater academic success. Closely facilitated activities allowed students in this voluntary, drop-in program to broaden their own experience and expertise in navigating a cross-ethnic world.
To learn more about the Welcoming Center’s work on immigrant integration, please contact Amanda Bergson-Shilcock at 215-557-2835.