In late 2016, a family of Syrian refugees arrived in New Orleans. Forced to flee conflict in their native country, they had almost no material possessions. And though the father had owned a restaurant back in Syria, his poor English had prevented him from obtaining a job. That’s when Community Church Unitarian Universalist, a member of the Greater New Orleans Interfaith Sanctuary Coalition, stepped in and helped the family furnish their new home, navigate the DMV, enroll their children in school and sign up for English classes. With this initial hand up, both father and the eldest son were able to start working, enabling the family to become self-sufficient.
As a member of the GNOISC steering committee, I am proud to see that our efforts — and those of similar institutions — are being recognized. New Orleans was just named one of the nation’s most inclusive cities for immigrants, according to the New American Economy Cities Index, an assessment of how well immigrants are integrated and supported in the nation’s hundred largest cities. We placed 17th, scoring especially well in the categories of job opportunities, economic prosperity, government leadership and community.
In the Index, “community” assesses municipal support for nonprofits like our own. The city understands that we must help our 93,000 foreign-born residents integrate if we want them to be self-sufficient and successful. This means helping them meet their basic needs; they can only channel their energy toward contributing to our local economy if they’re not worrying about where they’re going to live or work. And our city’s efforts are already paying off. In 2016 alone, immigrants in New Orleans paid $732.9 million in taxes and held $2.1 billion in spending power.
Facilitating integration and inclusion allows our city’s immigrants to live lives of dignity. But when they truly feel a part of our community, they feel invested in strengthening that community. When everyone who calls New Orleans home is doing their part, we all benefit.
As the saying goes: A rising tide lifts all boats. And I’m proud to live in a city that is committed to having us all grow and flourish together.