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San Diego Wants To Be An Even More Welcoming City To Newcomers

Amina, an immigrant from Kenya, looks at the San Diego skyline across the bay...

Credit: Amina/The Aja Project

Above: Amina, an immigrant from Kenya, looks at the San Diego skyline across the bay in this undated photo.

When Samuel Tsoi first emigrated from Hong Kong, the then-8-year-old focused on learning English to assimilate into his new country.

“And yet, I wasn’t given an opportunity to retain my Chinese language, so I had to learn that later on," Tsoi said.

Because in today’s globalized world, he said, bilingualism is an asset. That is one example he hopes representatives from the education, business, government and nonprofit sectors will consider as part of a new committee focused on improving immigrant integration. Tsoi, named an Urban Leadership Fellow with RISE San Diego, said the effort with the city of San Diego and other partners will examine how systems currently work and what can make them better.

“What is it like to advance more dual-language immersion programs? What does it look like for us to have parents engaged in the parent-teacher association?" he said. "How do we make sure there’s language access so parents don’t feel like, 'Oh if I don’t know English, I can't participate in my child’s education'?”

The proposal to establish the committee and draft a strategic plan earned $25,000 in funding, Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office announced Wednesday. A Gateways For Growth grant from Welcoming America and New American Economy is providing half of the support and the rest will come from The California Endowment.

“Immigrants and refugees contribute to San Diego’s culture and economy, and our region has taken in more refugees than any other in California,” Faulconer said in a statement. “This new program ensures we continue supporting those who come to our city to pursue a better life for themselves and their families.”


Summary of Proposal

Summary of Proposal

A summary of the proposal for the Gateways for Growth.

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Photo credit: Samuel Tsoi

Sameul Tsoi as a child with his family.

The Immigrant ​Integration​ ​Advisory​ ​Council includes the city of San Diego, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, RISE San Diego, Alliance San Diego, the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and the San Diego Refugee Forum, according to a summary of the proposal. The body will form several subcommittees focused on health, environment, public safety, education, civic engagement, economic development and research, the two-page document said.

Paola Avila, the Chamber of Commerce's vice president of international business affairs and leadership development, said the organization was eager to join the initiative and authored a letter of support for the grant application.

"The business community isn’t always seen as a natural advocate or obvious advocate for immigrants, and it’s a very important component because it’s a cornerstone of our future economic development," Avila said.

She said data from the New American Economy showed immigrants make up one-third of the region's workforce. As part of the project, the national organization will provide more focused research on the contributions of newcomers, which Avila said the Chamber plans to use when lobbying Congress, especially regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

President Donald Trump recently announced he planned to end DACA, which protected some young undocumented immigrants. Avila said the Chamber supports keeping them in the U.S.

“We hope that another outcome of this program is to arm ourselves better with data to substantiate our advocacy platform," she said.

Tsoi said he hopes the effort will bring a dedicated integration office to San Diego, similar to other cities across the U.S. The committee expects to complete a strategic plan by next September.

San Diego's long history of immigrant and refugee resettlement paints the city as a welcoming community but a new initiative aims to improve the integration process for newcomers.

The California Endowment also supports City Heights coverage by KPBS.


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