Indianapolis Selected for Gateways for Growth Challenge

Twenty U.S. cities chosen for program created by
Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) and Welcoming America

INDIANAPOLIS — The Partnership for a New American Economy Research Fund (PNAE) and Welcoming America selected Indianapolis to take part in their Gateways for Growth Challenge, a program that supports the development and implementation of multi-sector strategic plans for welcoming and integrating new Americans. The Immigrant Welcome Center submitted the application for the challenge and will serve as the lead organization for this initiative locally.

Indianapolis was one of 20 cities chosen for this unique program. “These communities are leaders in the broader and growing trend to be more inclusive, countering the narrative often heard in the mainstream news,” says David Lubell, executive director of Welcoming America.

PNAE and Welcoming America will provide the Immigrant Welcome Center with:

● Customized quantitative research reports on the contributions immigrants make to the local economy.
● On-the-ground, technical assistance to help the Immigrant Welcome Center draft, execute, and communicate a multi-sector immigrant integration strategy.

The Immigrant Welcome Center’s 100-member Welcoming Cities Task Force is working to address ways to make Indianapolis a more immigrant-friendly city. Terri Morris Downs, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Center says, “The support and expertise offered through the Gateways for Growth Challenge will help our Task Force craft recommendations for a citywide immigrant integration plan that will offer practical solutions for creating a city that welcomes and supports all residents.”

For more information about the Gateways for Growth Challenge and a complete list of cities selected for the program, visit


About the Immigrant Welcome Center
The Immigrant Welcome Center began community outreach in 2007 through its Natural Helpers program, which has expanded to include 96 volunteers representing 32 countries and speaking 46 languages. Natural Helpers are immigrants themselves who live and work in the communities they serve. They are a trained, dedicated group of bilingual volunteers who connect newcomers to a variety of community organizations that can provide information and referral for assistance with transportation, health care, employment and job training, education, legal issues, ESL classes, and more.

In addition to the Natural Helpers program, the Immigrant Welcome Center serves as a resource for community programs by collecting information about immigrant needs and how to best meet them, as well as by coordinating interagency services and addressing barriers to access.

A Call for Liberty and Justice for All

On Monday, 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. 


American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana

Jane Henegar, Executive Director


Center for Victim and Human Rights

Jill OBarske, Chair

Raio Krishnayya, Executive Director

Manoj Rana, Treasurer

Jessica Topor, Staff Attorney

Rachel Pendley, Staff Attorney

Mladenka Sitnikoska, Law Clerk


Exodus Refugee Immigration

Carleen Miller, Executive Director


Immigrant Welcome Center

Terri Morris Downs, Executive Director


Muslim Alliance of Indiana

Rima Khan-Shahid, Executive Director





DC Convening Shared a Vision of Better Immigration Integration


IWC Executive Director Terri Morris Downs with David Lubbell, Executive Director of Welcoming America, and Jane Gehlhausen with the Mayor’s Office of International and Cultural Affairs.

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.


TerriMorrisDowns.StaffTerri Morris Downs, has been the executive director for the Immigrant Welcome Center in Indianapolis since its inception 10 years ago.

Live Local, Think Global Event to Discuss Impact of Significant Foreign-Born Population Growth

facebook bannerNumber of immigrants in Marion County on pace to nearly double in 10 years

INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 19, 2015) – The Immigrant Welcome Center and the Indy Chamber have opened registration for the inaugural Live Local, Think Global event to be held at 5 p.m. on September 10 at the Athenaeum in Indianapolis. The event will serve as a call-to-action for businesses to prepare for and embrace Indianapolis’ changing demographics.

“To be successful, Indianapolis must plan ahead to adapt to this immigration trend, welcome immigrants and embrace them as neighbors, students, entrepreneurs, coworkers and customers,” said Neelay Bhatt, Immigrant Welcome Center board member, vice president, PROS Consulting Inc., and a first-generation immigrant to Indianapolis from India. “To put it into basketball terms, good players go where the ball is, great ones go where the ball is going to be, and we want Indy to continue to be a great city.”

Based on U.S. Census and American Community Survey data1, PROS Consulting says the number of immigrants in Marion County is projected to grow from roughly 60,000 today to 118,000 in 2023, a jump from 8 to 12.5 percent of the population. [View infographic]

“By 2026, it is projected that Marion County will be a minority-majority County,” said Bhatt. “If Indianapolis doesn’t adapt, we will be left behind. Residents and businesses will be drawn to our peer cities such Charlotte, Columbus, Kansas City and any other immigrant-friendly city.”

“Thriving cities boast great neighborhoods, the best job opportunities and the highest quality of life for everyone,” said Michael Huber, President and CEO, Indy Chamber. “Indianapolis is already the Racing Capital of the World and the Crossroads of America. To remain competitive—locally, nationally and internationally—we need to be the Most Welcoming City in America.”

[Related: Indianapolis Named 51st Welcoming America City]

Huber will be joined at the September 10 event by a panel of business leaders from Cummins, Eli Lilly and Company, Indiana Farm Bureau and Keystone Construction. The event will be emceed by Indianapolis Star columnist Mathew Tully and WIBC reporter Mike Corbin.
For additional information or to register for the event, visit the Live Local, Think Global site. Event activity can be tracked at #ThinkGlobalIndy.

What does the demographic shift mean to the Indy workforce?
In less than 10 years, the number of immigrants age 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher also will grow by 50 percent, meaning newcomers will arrive with a competitive skill set attractive to businesses looking to relocate or start up in Indianapolis. [View infographic]

Forty percent of Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy. “In fact, the CEOs of two of the largest tech companies in the world, Microsoft and Google, as well as those at Pepsi and MasterCard are first-generation immigrants,” said Bhatt. “We must cultivate an environment that will enable the next Google or Apple to be built right here in Indy.”

Top three growth industries for Indy immigrants
The top three growth industries for immigrants in Indianapolis, which include: 1) arts and entertainment and hospitality, 2) education services and health care, and 3) professional, scientific, technology and management, will each more than double by 2023.

“The demographics of our nation are changing rapidly,” Huber added. “Our laws and governments, schools and businesses, and faith, service and health organizations—the very fabric of our communities, need to be proactive and evolve with them.”

[Related –Welcoming Week 2015, Sept. 12 – 20, to Feature ALL-IN Block Party on Monument Circle]

# # #

1PROS Consulting Inc. used straight-line linear regression to project 2018 and 2023 demographics based on the population trends in Marion County from 2009-2013 using 2010 U.S. Census data and American Community Survey2 data through 2013.

2The ACS is a nationwide survey by the U.S. Census Bureau that collects and produces information on demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics about the U.S. population every year. About 1 in 38 U.S. households per year receives an invitation to participate in the ACS.

About Immigrant Welcome Center
immigrant welcome center logoThe Immigrant Welcome Center began community outreach in 2007 through its Natural Helpers program, which today includes 81 volunteers representing 38 countries and speaking 40 languages. Natural Helpers are immigrants themselves who live and work in the communities they serve. They are a trained, dedicated group of bilingual volunteers who connect newcomers to community organizations that can provide information and referral for assistance with transportation, health care, employment and job training, education, legal issues, ESL classes and more.

In addition to the Natural Helpers program, the Immigrant Welcome Center serves as a resource for community programs by collecting information about immigrant needs and how to best meet them, as well as by coordinating interagency services and addressing barriers to access.

About Indy Chamber
Indy Chamber - Vertical_pmsThe Indy Chamber is the voice of progress and improvement for the Indianapolis region’s business community. With membership of nearly 2,300 businesses representing 230,000 employees in the Indianapolis region, the Indy Chamber is leading the effort to strengthen the business climate, improve the state of education, revitalize neighborhoods and enhance the region’s workforce. In 2012, the Indy Chamber merged with Indy Partnership, Develop Indy, and Business Ownership Initiative.

Natural Helper Connects Immigrant to Attorney General’s Office

Natural Helper CJudithonnects Immigrant to Attorney General’s Office
Case Involving Car Warranty is Subsequently Appealed

Buying a car can be stressful. Imagine trying to buy one when you don’t speak the language well. Judith bought a car with a warranty that stated the dealership would cover the cost of repairs within a certain time period after the purchase. Unfortunately, many problems popped up on the car only days after the purchase, and the dealership did not honor the warranty. When Judith refused to pay for the repairs, the dealership sued her, and the court did not rule in her favor. Not only was Judith trying to adjust to a new place, but also she acquired thousands of dollars in debt because of a faulty car.

Cristina Gomez, a Natural Helper who works at our Southeast Community Services Branch on Monday evenings from 4:30 to 7:30 with the Indiana Attorney General’s office. They appealed the court’s decision, and Judith’s case won the second trial. She is now debt free and helping other immigrants with similar challenges.

Adams Recieves National AILA Advocacy Award

Angela AdamsThe American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has awarded Immigrant Welcome Center board member, Angela Adams, Associate General Counsel, Indiana University, with the 2015 Advocacy Award for outstanding efforts in support of AILA’s legislative agenda.

Read more about how Angela has devoted her career to enlightening the community about the beauty of immigration, the necessity of immigration reform, and the many other accolades she’s received along the way.

Congratulations, Angela! We appreciate your leadership.


Natural Helper Drives Language Learning Legislation

Pam Gemmer knows a thing or two about volunteering. Being a Natural Helper for the Immigrant Welcome Center is just one role among dozens she holds in the community. A retired teacher, Gemmer put her passion for language and learning to work in the 2015 Indiana General Assembly and played a significant role in getting Senate Bill 267 signed into law.

About the bill
Indiana became the ninth in the nation to pass a biliteracy bill, which recognizes students who demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages with a certificate of biliteracy and designation on their transcript after graduation. In the same measure, lawmakers authorized a dual-language immersion pilot program, which will provide grants to elementary schools for instruction to students in two languages simultaneously.

Pam’s journey
Armed with lessons learned from educators who helped pass similar legislation in Illinois and 37 years of teaching language to elementary and high school students, Pam became the bill’s primary advocate. Other positions as the founder of the Indiana Network for Early Language Learning, past committee chair for the same national organization and a member of the Indiana Foreign Language Teachers Association suited her for the role.

After graduating from Broad Ripple High School, the New York native moved to Mexico City to attend National Autonomous University where she later met her husband. Job offers brought the couple and their two sons back to Indianapolis some years later.

After a time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pam began teaching Spanish emersion classes at Forest Glen Elementary in Lawrence Township. She taught a second language to students in the district and for Indianapolis Public Schools, including many immigrants and refugees, until retiring from Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School in 2012.

“As a teacher, I was always sensitive to the state standards for world language,” said Pam.

Pam is quick to point to research that suggests those who speak multiple languages have better connected neurons, a better chance of recovery after brain trauma and other benefits.

“People who are bilingual have a very special gift to offer the Indiana economy,” said Pam. “It makes them more employable in the workforce. Just ask Lilly and Cummins.”

A lesson in the legislative process
Gemmer got her own lesson in the legislative process and how to navigate through an initial hearing of the bill in January, having it amended and passed by the Education Committee, and then seeing the measure passed by the Senate in a 50 to 0 vote.

The Dual Language Emersion Program was added to the bill while in the House of Representatives. Because seed money was required, the measure also had to go through the House Ways and Means Committee.

“We did not have much opposition,” said Gemmer. “It’s a non-political issue. [The certificates] can be administered at a low cost, and schools and students are already paying for testing.”

What’s next?
Pam will attend meetings across the state, including one with the president of the Indiana Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese and the head of Global Learning in Lafayette this week. With additional input and statistics from other states, the Department of Education will develop a test to assess students’ ability to read and understand the second language.

The DOE will also set the criteria for the dual-language learning grants. Qualified programs provide instruction to a portion of the 52,000 K-12 English Language Learner students in Indiana as reported by the Migration Policy Institute. If all goes accordingly, both programs will be approved by the Indiana Education Commission and available next school year.

“We’ll face new hurdles and challenges, but we will make it happen,” Pam said.

Pam will continue her work in the community at the Nationalities Council of Indiana, Mexican Consulate, volunteering at the fire department and library, La Fiesta and many other cultural events and initiatives. She recently arranged for Crispus Attucks students to serve as interpreters at Eskenazi Health.

“Taking bilingual students into the community really warms my heart,” said Pam. “It’s something I believe in passionately. We’re making a greater, more peaceful world to live in.”

Indianapolis Named 51st Welcoming America City

city of indianapolis logo 2015

        IWC logo

Mayor Ballard affirms Indianapolis as a Welcoming City that respects and embraces the cultural and economic contributions of immigrants

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recently affirmed Indianapolis’ commitment to identify opportunities to engage Indy’s global immigrant communities and further immigrants’ role in building the local economy as part of the Welcoming America initiative [see attached Proclamation].

Welcoming America is a national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and native-born Americans.

“Being a Welcoming City means celebrating our diversity and welcoming all people,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “Immigrants not only enhance our workforce and contribute to a more vibrant and global economy, they broaden our perspective and make our neighborhoods and our city stronger. We encourage businesses and residents to join in our effort to expand opportunities and promote inclusion for all residents, including immigrants.”

Indianapolis is already a multicultural city. Residents include more than 120 nationalities and speak 90 different languages. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 8.3 percent of Indianapolis residents are foreign-born. The Migration Policy Institute ranked Indianapolis ninth in population change in the number of foreign-born residents, making it one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in the country.

“For 10 years the Immigrant Welcome Center has been connecting immigrants to local services to ensure they succeed in Indianapolis,” said Terri Morris Downs, Executive Director, Immigrant Welcome Center. “Earlier this year, Indianapolis leaders made a strong statement recognizing the importance of welcoming all to our city.

By seeking this designation, Mayor Ballard extends this welcoming hand to immigrants who enrich our community civically, economically, culturally and socially. We are looking forward to working with leaders from the public and private sectors on policies and best practices that ensure immigrants thrive in Indianapolis.”

Welcoming America provides tools and resources to help participating cities advance their welcoming resolutions [See Mayor Ballard’s Resolution], initiatives and strategies. City leaders also can participate in national and transatlantic learning exchanges that highlight promising practices from globally competitive cities.

The Immigrant Welcome Center already hosts a celebration event as part of National Welcoming Week. Designed to help residents and new immigrants connect and learn about other cultures, the third annual Welcoming Week will be Sept. 13-19, 2015, in Indianapolis.

“We applaud Mayor Ballard for his leadership in recognizing that our diverse population is our greatest asset, and for committing to work in partnership with the community to build a more inclusive and welcoming Indianapolis,” said David Lubell, Executive Director, Welcoming America. “We encourage other leaders in Indiana to follow his lead.”

Indiana Weather a Change for Some Refugees

After watching a group of Ethiopian teenagers walk through the snow wearing abeysandals and no winter coats, Abey, a Natural Helper from the Immigrant Welcome Center, was compelled to help. She recruited friends and together they bought inexpensive coats and blankets to give to the children so their walk to school could be warmer.
“They came from a different climate and weren’t prepared,” said Abey, who is Ethiopian-born and has been in Indianapolis since 1982 (pictured second from the left).
But first, they had to track the kids down. Abey’s friend from Sudan helped her locate the students and translated English to Sudanese so the children could understand.
“People from this region are too proud to accept handouts,” said Abey. “They won’t go to a food line, but will accept help when it is offered, and are always very gracious.”
If smiles are any indication, the students appreciated Abey’s help and the clothes to get them through the cold Indiana winters.