U.S. cities share why they welcome refugees to their communities
When refugees flee violence and persecution and seek to rebuild their lives in safety, it’s often cities that welcome and provide support. Those who have been forced to flee bring with them their cultures, their unique experiences, and their hope – all of which make any community stronger and more vibrant. Local governments see firsthand the unique needs and challenges refugees and asylum seekers face as they settle in a new country, which can include applying for jobs, enrolling in school and accessing services like housing and health care. Cities often are among the main providers of these essential services, ensuring that refugees have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to their host communities.
In honor of World Refugee Day, we asked city leaders across the United States from big and small cities about how they welcome and support refugees and asylum seekers in their communities.
Here’s what they have to say.
Seattle, Washington | Mayor Bruce Harrell
“We welcome immigrant and refugees from other countries because they make us better. They bring knowledge, work ethic, culture, food, and excitement. They make us better, and they bring out the best in us. Cities have a role to sort of set the rhythm, the culture, and the policies using federal investments or state investments in a localized manner to make sure they become welcoming. Mayors can spearhead those conversations with families, communities, and advocacy organizations to set the culture of welcoming. A day doesn't go by where I have not had a positive impact from a refugee or immigrant.
The city of Seattle is a major city in this country, and I think we can be a shining example of how we get better and we improve lives and we lead with a spirit of compassion and love. And to me, that's what welcoming refugees and immigrants is all about – leading with compassion and love and bringing out the best in everybody.”
A day doesn’t go by where I have not had a positive impact from a refugee or immigrant.
Phoenix, Arizona | Mayor Kate Gallego
“Phoenix is the fastest growing city in the United States. Refugees have been an important part of us becoming a stronger, more diverse city. Refugees have been a wonderful and important part of the workforce at the airport, so they are the ones welcoming newcomers when they first arrive at Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Refugees have also helped us have stronger academic institutions. For example, Thunderbird School of Global Management is the number one school for global innovation and business in Phoenix. The dean of that program is a refugee helping us be more globally connected and sophisticated, and that's a real point of pride. We have important city buildings, including a police precinct, that was designed by an architect who came to our community as a refugee. Refugees have literally changed the skyline of the city of Phoenix, as well as making us a more welcoming and sophisticated community.”
Refugees have literally changed the skyline of the city of Phoenix
Wausau, Wisconsin | Mayor Katie Rosenberg
“Wausau started welcoming refugees in the 1970s when our local churches started pushing us to welcome Hmong refugees who were our allies in the war in Viet Nam. We welcomed thousands of Hmong refugees then, who are now 12% of our population. When we were given the opportunity to start welcoming again and open our refugee office for the first time in 20 years, we did it because that’s who we are. I think seeing what our allies abroad have gone through to help us and our national security has drawn people to say we would like to be welcoming in Wausau for the work they’ve done.
It feels a bit like we are building the airplane while we are flying, but community members have really stepped up. They've been able to surround resettled refugee families with love and support, and anytime they need to call, day or night, they have people to help. They've got beds to sleep in, they've got a variety of things in order to live a good life. That’s the power in being a smaller city – it’s that you are known. People recognize you. You are a part of the community. My goal in Wausau is to be as welcoming as possible.”
New York, New York | Commissioner Manuel Castro
“For centuries New York City has been home to refugees and immigrants from all over the world. We are the ultimate city of immigrants, and we continue to welcome newcomers because we have been a beacon of hope for so many. New York City's success has been in large part because of its tradition of welcoming and integrating refugees and immigrants. Our office, the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, is very committed to supporting refugees and asylum seekers and ensuring that they have the support that they need to connect to their communities already here.
We continue to welcome [refugees and immigrants] because we have been a beacon of hope for so many
Refugees and asylum seekers arriving to New York City often come to reconnect with families and communities already here, and we recognize the importance of reuniting families, keeping communities together, and supporting everyone who wants to become a New Yorker and integrate into our local economy and culture. Our economy, our culture, really our spirit of innovation is due to newcomers – over half of our small business owners are refugees and immigrants. We continue our history of welcoming because we know that our economy thrives from their spirit to succeed and achieve their dreams.“