by Ethan Maia de Needell, Rural Women’s Health Project
In 2016, Mayor Poe proclaimed Gainesville to be a “Welcoming City” for its immigrant population. However, the list of criteria to certify this claim are still unmet.
Many of our immigrant neighbors currently face challenges because limited language access results in a lack of access to transportation, broadband internet, and identification. Our inequitable system has prevented them from fully integrating into our community and taking advantage of critical benefits and services offered in the city. And these obstacles are present despite the immense, positive impact our foreign-born neighbors have on our community and local economy. For example, immigrants in Gainesville contribute over $20 million in state and local taxes, and are disproportionately represented in the workforce in relation to their population.
In response to the discrepancy between where some of our public officials believe we are, and where Gainesville actually is, the city created the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Initiative (GINI). As part of its work to push Gainesville towards becoming more equitable for, and inclusive of, its foreign-born neighbors, GINI has formed several different working groups made up of local residents from diverse backgrounds and cultures. These groups meet to discuss strategies on how the city can address the biggest barriers immigrants face, each with a particular focus such as Health, Safety, Civic Engagement, or Education (to name a few).
One of the issues that appear to intersect all the working groups is the lack of language access for many of our foreign-born neighbors. For example, our schools and hospitals are either inadequately prepared or simply unable to treat or serve community members who are not fluent in English. Something as simple as booking an appointment for the doctor or reading the bill after receiving care can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for those who are not fluent English speakers.
This is an unacceptable situation that many of the roughly 15,000 immigrants in Gainesville face every day. On October 28, the GINI Steering Committee will present a report from the national non-profit, New American Economy, which will demonstrate just how key the immigrant community is to Gainesville. The report will focus mainly on the economic impact our foreign-born neighbors have on the community, and will hopefully help illustrate the point GINI is making: our immigrant neighbors are a critical part of our society and we need to start treating them with the respect and recognition they deserve.