City officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul released a new report on how to make the Twin Cities more welcoming for immigrants and refugees. Credit: Collage by Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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A new report on the experiences of Twin Cities immigrants and refugees recommends establishing advisory councils to inform policymakers, increasing cultural competency training for police, and expanding social services, among other efforts.

“The Journey to Belonging in the Twin Cities” released on March 31, comes out of a collaboration between the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul Area Chamber, as well as the City of Minneapolis and City of St. Paul. The 22-page report is designed as a blueprint for making the Twin Cities more welcoming for immigrants and refugees while strengthening their inclusion in the regional economy.

St. Paul Assistant City Attorney Edmundo Lijo, who also works on immigrant and refugee affairs for the city, said the research team worked with a wide range of community organizations that represent the interests of different immigrant groups. Connecting with immigrants and refugees was difficult because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“This is a very comprehensive plan,” Lijo said. “It covered a lot of different areas and it was intentionally done that way to give us a broad spectrum of recommendations.” 

Michelle Rivero, director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Minneapolis, said the report was created through a robust, collaborative effort. A committee of city officials, community organizations, and local economic development leaders contributed to the report.

“Every piece of this report has value,” Rivero said. “From the recommendations and strategies to who composed the advisory committee, the data that’s included in the report, and the bibliography.”

According to the report, immigrants and refugees represent more than 15 percent of the employed workforce in Minneapolis and 22 percent in St. Paul. They also make up 13 percent of business owners in Minneapolis and 33 percent in St. Paul.

Grace Walz, the vice president of public policy for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said they created the report to show how immigrants and refugees contribute to the economy and to provide strategies for how to improve their involvement in multiple areas.

“We did not want this body of work to feel duplicative,” Waltz said. “Our intention from the beginning was to use this comprehensive approach as a way to pull all these organizations together, all the work together, and highlight it in one comprehensive way.”

The city officials leading the effort leaned on an advisory committee made up of 34 representatives from a variety of sectors, such as refugee resettlement agencies, legal service providers, academia, business interests, and local government.

The city agencies received research support and technical assistance through grants from Gateways For Growth, a program run by two research and advocacy organizations, New American Economy and Welcoming America. The report marks the first time Gateways For Growth supported a joint research effort between two major U.S. cities.

The report compiled research last year on immigrant and refugee economic contributions in each city and identified barriers they faced. City officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul then conducted community engagement efforts to brainstorm ways to address barriers in areas like education, healthcare, housing, safety, and economic opportunities. Here’s a breakdown of their recommendations.

Connected communities

The report identifies three pathways to better connect immigrant communities: foster a sense of belonging, improve language access and cultural competence, and ensure all residents can participate in civic, economic, and social life.  

One strategy that may help realize these goals is to increase funding for translation services in city, county, and state offices. The report also recommends establishing immigrant and refugee advisory councils to inform policymakers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Safe communities

Researchers call for the Twin Cities to combat hate crimes, improve relationships with law enforcement, and strengthen emergency management plans adopted during the COVID pandemic.

They recommend examining enforcement methods for hate crimes in the criminal

justice system. They also recommend increasing funding for cultural-competency training in police departments, as well as funding for providing business opportunities for small businesses impacted by unrest following the 2020 killing of George Floyd.

Equitable access to education, housing, and healthcare

Researchers recommend that Minneapolis and St. Paul city officials welcome new immigrants in their school districts, increase affordable housing options, and promote culturally competent healthcare.

Some ways to foster equity in those sectors include expanding social services to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees experiencing homelessness. The report also recommends providing healthcare workers with training on trauma-informed care.

Economic and workforce development

The report encourages both cities to improve access to jobs and career advancement opportunities for high-skilled immigrants and refugees who have advanced degrees.

Researchers recommend creating financial literacy training opportunities through higher education institutions. They also suggest working with local organizations to connect high-skilled workers to job opportunities that match their skill sets.

What’s next?

Rivero and Lijo will present the recommendations to both Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils by the end of April. The cities will then review the recommendations and identify ways to implement them. Rivero and Lijo plan to work with city officials to identify programs in place that may align with their recommendations. Lijo added that the city of St. Paul is going to do a comprehensive review on how to implement the recommendations over the next three to five years.

Waltz said the chamber is working on building an online resource hub where local business owners can access free technical assistance in multiple languages. She said the chamber hopes to launch it by summer.

Rivero and Lijo also plan to hold forums to share their findings with the community. 

“These recommendations are not an end; they’re actually a beginning,” Lijo said. “We’re going to take these back to our respective institutions and work on more engagement to see what resonates with community.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.