In November, the Immigrant Welcome Center and our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, the Center for Victim and Human Rights, Exodus Refugee Immigration, and the Muslim Alliance of Indiana issued the statement below in response to calls to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana:
Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced he is suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees in our state. We believe the Governor’s statement unfairly characterizes Hoosiers as unwelcoming, and does not reflect the diversity most of us value in our communities.
We too are saddened by the tragedy and loss of innocent lives in Paris. But we must be resolved to live in a manner that reflects our values and not live in fear. Millions of refugees are fleeing violence in their homelands, trying to escape from the same terrorist groups who have committed acts of violence in other parts of the world. To deny access to these refugees would be inhumane.
More than 4 million Syrians have left their homeland in search of a safe haven and have a right to be treated with basic human dignity. Sheltering refugees from violence is one of the most noble acts a country can undertake. Many Hoosiers already work tirelessly to help welcome the stranger. Refugees are making enormous contributions to our state economically, culturally and socially. In the past two years, about 30 Syrians have been resettled in Indiana and many Hoosiers are open to welcoming more families.
We understand the need to be safe and to protect ourselves from those who wish to do us harm. U.S. security agencies and the Department of Homeland Security already have strict measures in place to screen refugees. To roll up the welcome mat is to play into how the terrorists would want Americans to react – to change our way of living and to cause fear and misunderstanding of the Syrian people.
Given the urgent need to resettle refugees, and Hoosiers’ long history of helping those in need from around the world, we call on Governor Pence to reconsider his position. By welcoming Syrian refugees, we show the world our resolve to be welcoming and inclusive, and we stand up for the quintessential American values we hold dear: liberty and justice for all.
Since we issued this statement, a Syrian family has resettled in Indiana. But unfortunately, some of the angry rhetoric continues.
If you want to help us stand up for American values by assisting local immigrants and refugees, support the Immigrant Welcome Center. Learn more about our programs, volunteer or make a donation today!
Fountain Square will soon be the epicenter of diversity in Indianapolis. In December, the Immigrant Welcome Center relocated its offices from the John H. Boner Community Center to 901 Shelby St. in Fountain Square.
Please join us for a Community Open House at the new location on Dec. 14!
The move will position us to better assist Marion County’s burgeoning immigrant population. The number of immigrants in the county is expected to double by 2023, from 60,000 to nearly 120,000.
“Our job is to help Indianapolis prepare for and embrace our growing immigrant population,” said Terri Morris Downs, IWC executive director. “What better place to fulfill our mission than in the Fountain Square Cultural District where newcomers and new businesses are sprouting up daily!”
The new location is close to other community organizations and offers dedicated meeting and event space that can better accommodate our Natural Helper volunteers, educational workshops and other community outreach programs.
“Because transportation is often a challenge for new immigrants and refugees, it’s important for us to be in an accessible location,” said Downs. “Moving to Fountain Square will allow us to eventually expand the reach of our neighborhood and mobile branches and serve even more people in the community.”
The Center “welcomes” immigrants and connects them to services that will help them be successful in Indianapolis, whether it’s finding a job, legal services, transportation, housing, education, health care or nearly any other services. Visit immigrantwelcomecenter.org to learn more or to get involved.
The phone number, (317) 808-2326, remains the same. Please call us with any questions.
Jane Gehlhausen of the Mayor’s Office for International and Cultural Affairs and I proudly represented Indianapolis at the recent Welcoming Cities Convening in Washington, DC. We were encouraged to see the work being done nationally and between states and local governments in support of immigrants.
Here’s a snapshot of what we heard on major issues affecting immigrants and Indianapolis:
- Building Welcoming Communities – The White House announced a new campaign that will connect federal resources with local communities to expand immigrant integration efforts, specifically in the areas of small business development, education, and citizenship resources. The program calls on communities to commit to and act on principles that focus on building inclusive communities that enable all residents to thrive, while advancing immigrant, civic, linguistic and economic integration. Indianapolis has a great start on this already!
- Issuing driver’s licenses – Data now supports why states should issue driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants. States that have enacted such laws have demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing the number of insured drivers, reducing accidents.
- Office of Immigrant Affairs – In a solidly pro-immigrant stance, most big-city mayors have opened an Office of Immigrant Affairs or New Americans and moved away from simply having Latino Affairs representatives.
- Language Accessibility – The number one need of immigrants nationally is language accessibility, which should be considered in any integration plan. Cities and nonprofits are negotiating better rates with language lines and interpreting/translation companies.
- Refugee Resettlement – The U.S. State Department will increased the number of refugees it resettles from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016, and efforts are underway to advocate funding for 100,000+ in 2017.
As you can see, there are many complex, sometimes divisive issues facing U.S. cities as evident by the commentary in the widely covered presidential campaigns. Most of the community leaders we met seemed to recognize the importance of attracting and retaining immigrants and their enormous economic, social and cultural benefits. They face many of the same quality-of-life questions, and like Indianapolis, will continue grassroots efforts to address these challenges, seize the opportunities and ensure our country’s continued success and prosperity.
You can help!
Be an advocate and educate others on why comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to our economy and the well-being of families and join our Welcoming Cities Task Force. Please call (317) 223-0933 or email us by Nov. 20 to get involved in this exciting new initiative and help drive the future of Indianapolis as a Welcoming City.
Francisco Ruiz was on camera talking about how he came to Indianapolis for love and ended up falling in love with the city when the cell phone in his pocket buzzed. It was a fellow immigrant reaching out for help. He’d call them back as soon as he finished the interview.
That moment says much about Ruiz, who was born in Colombia and has been among the most active Natural Helpers with the Immigrant Welcome Center. Spanish-speaking newcomers across Indianapolis have Ruiz’s number. They know he’s the guy to connect them to the resources they need to succeed in their new hometown.
Ruiz was a taxi driver and tour guide in his home state of Quindio, Colombia before immigrating to Indianapolis in 2007. In fact, he was featured in a 2006 New York Times article about the coffee trail and how Colombia came to develop renowned coffee beans. He met his wife when she was a visiting Colombia and eventually immigrated to Indianapolis where they live today.
His skills as a tour guide translated well to his new life in Indianapolis as he began volunteering through his church, St. Mary’s in downtown Indianapolis, and eventually connected with the Immigrant Welcome Center. After completing training, Ruiz became a natural helper working to help his fellow newcomers connect with everything from language classes to job programs.
“I give my telephone number to everybody and I am okay that everybody calls,” he said, learning quickly that while people might seek help for one or two issues, a face-to-face conversation often reveals many more needs. His job as facilities manager at St. Mary’s allows him to extend his reach into the community.
Throughout central Indiana there are dozens of natural helpers like Ruiz working with foreign-born newcomers integrate into the community. People representing 120 nationalities bring their talents to Indianapolis, building vibrant and diverse neighborhoods.
“Live local, think global” is a corporate communications event being held Sept. 10 at the Athenaeum in Indianapolis to raise fund and highlight the vital work of the Immigrant Welcome Center. Hosted by IWC and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, the event promises an evening of robust discussions about how the business community can be ready for the influx of foreign-born newcomers. Panelists include leaders from the Chamber, Eli Lilly, Cummins and other businesses will share their perspectives.
Learn about how to make our community welcoming to all newcomers by attending. The is open to the public and for information about how to get your ticket: Click here to register
It’s easy to start up a new organization. But keeping it going? That’s the real challenge.
The group of Indianapolis leaders who launched the Immigrant Welcome Center a decade ago knew they needed to build an organization that would sustain itself. And what better way than creating a means for immigrants to help immigrants navigate the maze of services available in the Indianapolis area?
The Immigrant Welcome Center, the brainchild of Amy Minick Peterson, was founded to meet the real-life needs of foreign-born newcomers to our community. Her team learned about a program through the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where immigrants worked with fellow immigrants to access resources and services in their new communities. The Casey Foundation program, which operated in a number of other cities, was called Natural Helpers
The Immigrant Welcome Center Natural Helpers program is straightforward- people who have been through the experience of moving to a strange city in a foreign country help fellow immigrants figure out how to get a job, an education, medical services, access to transportation, and more. And when that helper has come from the same part of the world as the newcomer, the transition is smoother because of their shared language and culture.
Beth Casselman, Executive Director of the Indianapolis-based Clowes Foundation, said her board was willing to commit to the Immigrant Welcome Center after seeing the Natural Helpers program in action. “what really resonated with us is there are so many needs in the immigrant community,” she said, and her board believed it was critical to develop leaders within that community. Immigrant Welcome Center and the Natural Helpers program proved to be a great fit with that goal.
With funding from Casey, Clowes and other sources, Immigrant Welcome Center was up and running as a 5012c3 nonprofit operating out of the John H. Boner Community Center with Terri Morris Downs as its Executive Director. And in October 2006, the first group of Natural Helpers was trained and delivering support and services throughout Indianapolis.
Today, the Natural Helpers program is a centerpiece of the Immigrant Welcome Center with 80 Natural Helpers working to make Indianapolis a truly welcoming community for all newcomers.
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To learn more about the growing foreign-born population in Indianapolis, Join us on September 10th for Live Local, Think Global
Imagine traveling thousands of miles to a city in a new country where you don’t understand the language, the culture and customs seem strange, and where the simplest tasks are overwhelming. Immigrants to our community face those challenges every single day.
How do you navigate the public school system? What about a job? Housing? Learning English? Yes, there are services in Indianapolis to help immigrants, but they aren’t in one place and they aren’t always easy to access.
That was what Amy Minick Peterson realized about a decade ago when, as first lady of Indianapolis, she witnessed the challenges faced by foreign-born newcomers. She was visiting an organization that provided services to the Latino community when a young couple with two small children carrying their possessions in grocery bags walked in asking for help.
She asked questions about how the family got there and what was going to happen to them after she left. And she continued asking questions as she met with members of her staff, including Terri Downs, and with Mike Carter of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.
Out of those conversations the Immigrant Welcome Center was born. Their goal – do as much as possible to make Indianapolis a welcoming city. They were going to do this by providing the resources to link foreign-born newcomers to the people, places and resources they need to build their lives in a new community.
But where to start? Enter the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which funds initiatives to help disadvantaged children and their families. Through the Casey Foundation they learned about a program that trains immigrants to help each other navigate the web of programs and resources. They traveled to Seattle where a similar program operated so they could learn what works and adapt the model to Indianapolis.
With initial funding from the Casey Foundation, the Clowes Fund in Indianapolis and others, the Immigrant Welcome Center was launched as a 501c3 organization with the Natural Helpers Program as its centerpiece and Downs as its executive director.
Carter summed up their mission best when he said that they didn’t want to repeat what other groups were doing and wanted to build an organization that would last.
And that’s what they’ve done.