Civic Engagement and Recent Immigrant Communities: A Planning Guide for Local Officials and Other Community Leaders
Why talk about the civic engagement of recent immigrants? For any community, immigration can be a challenge and a great opportunity. How local governments deal with this issue can have a major impact on the political climate, school system, public services and economic prosperity. Engaging recent immigrants, and strengthening relationships, can have a number of benefits, including:
- Educating recent immigrants about their rights and responsibilities, and about the services provided by local government;
- Educating local government about the needs, goals, cultural traditions and patterns of communication of recent immigrant groups;
- Fostering communication and helping to resolve tensions and divisions between different groups of people in the community;
- Creating an environment where new leaders will emerge;
- Encouraging recent immigrants to contribute their own time and skills to solving public problems.
Many local officials who reach out to recent immigrant communities also see this work as an essential public responsibility that comes with serving in elected office. They argue that in addition to the benefits listed above, civic engagement is simply the right thing for public officials to do. To figure out the best approach to strengthening relationships with recent immigrant communities, it is important to understand the changes taking place in the city, consider some potential goals for civic engagement, and decide how different leaders and groups might contribute to the work.
This guide presents local official with the first steps and directions for developing or re-establishing efforts toward integrating immigrants into the civic life of the city. It provides guidance for conducting meetings with small groups of local leaders that are representative of the many cultural and ethnic facets of the community. The guide is intended to serve as a template to use in two planning meetings with a small group (eight to 25) of local leaders. The agenda, discussion questions and process information will help the group set goals, consider different formats and strategies, and think about how they might work together.
The guide was developed through the collaboration of NLC’s Democratic Governance project and the Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration Program (MAII). It was written by Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of The Deliberative Democracy Consortium and a long-time consultant to NLC’s democratic governance work.