City rolls out plan to integrate immigrants and refugees into communities

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SAN DIEGO – The city Friday kicked off an effort to develop a strategic plan to better welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees into San Diego.

A daylong forum being held Friday features discussions and speakers from the public sector, nonprofit realm and business community who have come together to help develop the “Welcoming San Diego” plan, which will identify ways that the city can support immigrants economically, socially and educationally so as to better tap into their contributions to the community.

The event is the first in a series of community forums slated for the coming months.

Speakers included San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Sanders, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, and City Attorney Mara Elliott.

“The chamber understands the importance of immigrants,” Sanders said.

Immigrants have a great deal of economic power: They’re more likely to be entrepreneurs and tend to be very hard working. He hopes the strategic plan outlines ways that the immigrant workforce can be further supported, Sanders said.

By supporting those workers, he said, it will drive more innovation and attract more investment in the San Diego economy.

Immigrants make up 23 percent of San Diego County’s population. Compared to other regions in California, immigrant workers living in San Diego are better educated and have moderate incomes and have a high rate of linguistic integration, according to the University of Southern California.

Immigrants contribute 26 percent to the gross domestic product of San Diego and Imperial counties, according to USC.

Peters said the continued embrace of the contributions of immigrants is the key to long-term economic growth.

Efforts such as this one serve as an example to the rest of the country as debate over immigration wages on and the public consciousness is flooded with negative stories about immigrants on the national stage, he said.

“We don’t fear the border — it’s not a threat, it’s an opportunity,” he said. “It’s really important to tell the stories of people who are making a contribution.”

The effort is funded by a $12,500 grant for research and technical assistance from the Gateways of Growth Challenge, a collaboration between nonprofits the Partnership for a New American Economy and Welcoming America.