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UT report says Austin could be more welcoming to immigrants

Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s Equity Office is supporting the findings of a recent report published by University of Texas researchers who found there is work to be done to increase the economic and civic participation of immigrants locally.

The report, titled “Advancing Immigrant Incorporation in Austin,” was published by researchers at UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Looking at data from 2018 to 2020, researchers found Austin ranked 43 out of the top 100 American cities for incorporating immigrants, with the city’s biggest gaps coming in areas of civic participation, livability and job opportunities.

The report makes eight recommendations that staff and relevant boards and commissions will evaluate for possible consideration in the next budget cycle. The recommendations include creating and staffing a city office dedicated to immigrant affairs and incorporation; looking at policy options to address low wages in sectors of the economy that have an increased effect on immigrants; developing more affordable housing; and working with higher learning institutions and related organizations to deliver workforce development programs.

Other recommendations included making information on business formation more accessible to immigrant communities; supporting naturalization efforts such as English language proficiency and civics education; creating community hubs to bring neighborhood groups together; and developing initiatives to increase civic participation in all communities.

The memo notes that the Equity Office added an immigrant affairs staff position as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, and supports the report’s findings and specifically points out that Austin’s naturalization rate is “one of the lowest among its peers.”

The city’s Commission on Immigrant Affairs was scheduled to receive a presentation on the report at its meeting Monday.

The cost of housing is cited as an area of particular concern affecting all residents, including pockets of Asian, Mexican and Latin American immigrants clustered in the western and southeastern segments of the city. It also notes “a ‘crescent moon’ of assets, attributes and incidents along the heavily populated central corridor of Austin, bending toward West Austin. Whether it is the location of affordable housing units, hospitals, fire stations, or public libraries, the patterns mirror the longstanding racial and economic divides in the city.”

While Austin showed improvement in the three years of data gathered to relative cities, those improvements were driven by strong scores in areas of legal support, government leadership and community making up for low scores in livability, economic opportunities and civic participation.

Immigrant affairs and opportunity has been an area of focus for City Council in recent years, with the UT report one result of the desire to be officially recognized as a welcoming city.

A 2019 memo that sprang from a 2018 Council resolution led to the creation of the new staff position in the Equity Office. It also called for developing a citywide strategy to provide services to immigrant communities, applying for a Gateway for Growth grant that would provide research, financial and technical assistance around immigrant issues, and joining the Cities for Citizenship Network.

In an August interview with KUT 90.5 FM, Rocío Villalobos, the city’s immigrant affairs manager, said the report was necessary to get a full view of the challenges Austin has to face to improve its services and livability for its immigrant population.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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