Immigrants in Nashville have found a vocal ally in Mayor Karl Dean in recent years, and on Monday he announced the creation of a new Metro office focused exclusively on helping them.
By executive order, Dean created the Mayor’s Office of New Americans, or MONA, a city office tasked with involving immigrants in local government, expanding economic and educational opportunities and creating partnerships between Metro and community organizations.
Dean has backed a series of initiatives to make the city more welcoming to the international newcomers who have accounted for more than half of the city’s population growth in the past decade.
The city’s foreign-born population has grown from 2 percent to almost 12 percent in two decades, and some 21,000 immigrants here are legal permanent residents and eligible to seek citizenship.
Praise for Dean’s latest move came quickly from immigrant advocacy groups.
“We hope that the [office] will ensure that the initiatives of the mayor’s office are inclusive of the unique experiences of immigrant communities, and that cities throughout Tennessee will learn from Nashville’s example,” Stephanie Teatro, interim co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said in a statement.
Teatro is one of several speakers scheduled for the office’s first public event, a roundtable talk at noon on Oct. 2 at the Sonny West Conference Center at 700 Second Ave. S. The public is invited to bring ideas about the needs of immigrants.
In making the move, Dean named a senior adviser, Shana Hughey, to the director’s role.
Hughey has worked on immigration projects for several years. She’ll work with existing funding, a spokeswoman said.
The new office isn’t meant to be a destination for immigrants seeking services, but will play a role in coordinating new and ongoing efforts, including several announced this year.
Earlier this month, Dean and Metro Schools created a Parent Ambassadors program to connect immigrant families based on their shared languages so that newcomers have guidance navigating the school system. One out of every five Nashville students is Latino now, and more than 140 languages are spoken through city schools, officials said.