Locals engage growing Hispanic population
As the U.S. population grew 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population surged up 43 percent — including new immigrants and children of individuals who identify themselves as Hispanic — according to the recently released 2010 U.S. Census. Local governments are shouldering much of the responsibility for ensuring that those 15.2 million Latinos can access services and integrate into their communities.
“Twenty-five years ago, the Hispanic population was concentrated in a few states,” says Ricardo Gambetta, manager of Immigrant Integration Programs for the Washington-based National League of Cities (NLC). “Now, small, medium and big cities are dealing with this issue every day.” Through its Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration (MAII) project launched in 2008, NLC is helping city officials encourage naturalization and integrate Hispanic residents. To share best practices, MAII is publishing a series of reports highlighting communities with successful programs. In June, it released “Public Safety Programs for the Immigrant Community,” which addresses how to overcome the fear of law enforcement that occurs in some immigrant populations.
Overcoming the language barrier between non-English speaking residents is also a pressing issue for cities and counties. Richmond, Va., has seen its Hispanic population grow from more than 5,000 residents in 2000 to approximately 13,000 in 2010, or roughly 6 percent of total residents. The city’s Hispanic Liaison Office, which was formed in 2004, has seen its requests for services increase every year, says the office’s manager Tanya Gonzalez. The office provides interpretation services to residents accessing city services, coordinates bilingual volunteers for the city’s free tax assistance program and provides translation assistance to city departments.
Gambetta encourages local governments to reach out to other sectors to engage Hispanic residents in their communities. “Local officials have to be willing to reach out,” he says. “Local government can’t fix everything on its own.”
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.