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San Diego Coalition Seeks Public Input To Improve Newcomer Experience

A Syrian refugee sits on a couch in her family's three-bedroom El Cajon apart...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: A Syrian refugee sits on a couch in her family's three-bedroom El Cajon apartment, July 25, 2017.

While the national immigration debate largely focuses on how a person enters the country, a local effort is examining the process after immigrants arrive, and it's tapping the public for help.

Organizers for the grant-funded Welcoming San Diego initiative will hold community forums this month to discuss how well the city of San Diego's systems — from education to workforce development — support newcomers. The input will be added to a strategic plan, due later this year, intended to advise the city on how it can boost immigrant integration.

Welcoming San Diego Community Forums

Mon., May 7, 5 to 7 p.m. at Mira Mesa High School

Wed., May 9, 5 to 7 p.m. at Kearny High School

Fri., May 11, 5 to 7 p.m. at Madison High School

Sat., May 12, 9 to 11 a.m. at Crawford High School

Thurs., May 17, 5 to 7 p.m. at Morse High School

Welcoming San Diego, a coalition that includes representatives from the government, academic and nonprofit sectors, launched its efforts to evaluate integration back in February. The event highlighted the economic contributions of immigrants and included brainstorming sessions about the barriers they face.

RELATED: Hundreds Coming Together In San Diego To Support Newcomers

Samuel Tsoi, Welcoming San Diego's lead organizer, said he hopes this next stage will bring in an additional perspective.

“We heard a lot from people who are mostly the leaders and practitioners in helping immigrants, but we want to hear from the immigrants themselves," said Tsoi, assistant director of UC San Diego's 21st Century China Center and a former fellow with RISE San Diego.

The series of meetings that begins Monday evening in Mira Mesa is co-hosted by San Diego Unified and located at the district's schools throughout May. Spokeswoman Maureen Magee said the district partnered up with Welcoming San Diego because the coalition's goals align with its own efforts to support newcomer children.

She said the district has already made changes for immigrant students to alleviate pressure from recently updated graduation requirements that mandate two consecutive years of foreign language education.

“That’s really a big hurdle if you need to acclimate to the country, if you need to get through everything else to graduate and you need to perfect your mastery of the English language," Magee said.

Students who speak one of 23 languages can now test out of the requirement, when that was previously only available to those who spoke one of three languages. Magee said the class of 2016 was the first affected by the change and since then, more languages have been added to the list.

Tsoi said forum attendees will be separated into small groups and asked to discuss their responses to specific questions about integration. They'll also be invited to submit feedback via a survey.

More public meetings will be scheduled, including sessions that focus on employment and the refugee experience, Tsoi said.

The forums will include interpretation services for Spanish speakers, and the session at the City Heights-serving Crawford High School will include Somali interpretation, but Tsoi said services for speakers of other languages may be added based on request.

While the national immigration debate largely focuses on how a person enters the country, a local effort is examining the process after immigrants arrive, and it's tapping the public for help.

Editor's Note: The California Endowment is a Welcoming San Diego funder and also supports City Heights coverage at KPBS.

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