The city of Tulsa on Thursday will unveil a comprehensive plan to welcome and support new immigrants to the community.
The New Tulsans Welcoming Plan provides an outline for how the city intends to help improve immigrants’ lives in five key areas: civic engagement, economic development, education, health and public safety.
“With the exception of the Native Americans, everybody that lives here in the Tulsa community, either themselves or their ancestors, came to the United States and were immigrants,” said Mayor G.T. Bynum. “What I am asking them (Tulsans) to think about is, how would you have wanted your ancestors to be treated in whatever city they landed in?”
Christina da Silva, community development and policy director for the city, will present the plan to the public at 9 a.m. at Martin Regional Library, 2601 S. Garnett Road.
Da Silva said Tulsa, like other Midwestern cities, has seen an uptick in its immigrant population, with the Hispanic and Asian populations growing the fastest.
To ensure that immigrants integrate into the community and prosper, da Silva said, the city and its partner organizations must focus on three issues: improving access to information; increasing the number of immigrants entering professional fields; and expanding immigrants’ access to services that already exist.
Da Silva, a native of Panama, said she knows well the struggles immigrants face when entering a new country.
“Families who are immigrating here in Tulsa and all over the United States are really striving hard to make their communities a better place,” she said. “And it’s a matter of getting them connected with the right resources and opportunities.”
Often, basic information and services longtime residents take for granted never reaches new immigrants, da Silva said. She recalled a recent meeting with a group of Syrian refugees of all ages who knew nothing of Gathering Place, the city’s new $460 million park along Riverside Drive.
“This was like less than a month ago...,” she said. “That is just one example of how we need to think intentionally of how we channel our information.”
Among the goals of the plan are to ensure that employers, immigrants and workforce programs are aware of best practices for employing immigrants; to have immigrants well represented on city boards, authorities and commissions; and to provide equitable access to affordable, local health-care services.
The New Tulsans Welcoming Plan is part of the New Tulsans Initiative announced by the city last year. It is being funded by a Gateways for Growth Challenge grant.
Beginning earlier this year, committees started identifying the city’s needs, exploring best practices and compiling information on existing immigrant services. The committees’ recommendations were then presented to 13 groups of immigrants to see “how they matched up to their realities,” da Silva said.
The city of Tulsa’s population is 64.5 percent white, 15.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 15 percent African American, according to July 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Although most of the city’s new immigrants are coming from Central America, South America and Asia, Bynum said Tulsa’s welcoming plan is open to all immigrants.
“We define a new Tulsan as anybody (here) who wasn’t born in the United States,” the mayor said. “So the whitest guy from Finland who just moved here, this is for you as well.”
The city’s proposal comes at a time when the federal government is cracking down on illegal immigration and threatening to punish cities that don’t cooperate in enforcing immigration laws.
The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold individuals suspected of being in the country illegally in the Tulsa County jail.
Bynum said he understands the climate of the times but said that is no reason not to help the city’s newest arrivals succeed. He also noted that the city has always complied with federal immigration enforcement policies and will continue to do so.
“We are not using this as a platform to call for change at the federal level on immigration policy or to criticize the Sheriff’s Department for anything that they are doing,” Bynum said. “We are saying we understand the parameters of the things we can’t control right now, and so within those parameters of what we can control, here is what we want to do.”
Bynum cautioned that making Tulsa a more inviting and welcoming place for immigrants won’t happen overnight and that the city’s welcoming plan is just the start of that long process.
Still, he said, it’s an endeavor worth undertaking.
“We don’t want the only interaction that the immigrant community has in Tulsa to be with law enforcement in incidents when somebody gets deported,” Bynum said. “There are so many ways that we could be serving the immigrant community here and developing a better place for them, but there has to be a focused effort, which is the goal of this.”