Business initiative promotes integration and economic development

Immigration legal service providers play a significant role in promoting immigrant integration in the community. Through their work, legal service providers utilize their partnerships and relationships with community members to create a space that is safe, supportive and inclusive. For newcomers, receiving immigration legal services is an essential step on the integration journey.

Over the last 25 years, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, or ILCM, has provided services and support to newcomers using three approaches that allow the CLINIC affiliate to advocate for policy changes and to educate the newcomers and the community while providing direct legal immigration services. In 2016, after receiving a donation from the Legal Services Advisory Committee’s Bank of America, ILCM launched the Austin Area Minority Business Project, a unique, multi-year project that supports immigrant and minority business owners. In partnership with three local nonprofits and in cooperation with city officials, business owners have access to a holistic approach of economic development legal services, technical legal support and education, immigration legal services, and holistic evaluation and outcome analysis at no cost to them.

“It’s unique that these services [from the Austin project] are being provided in partnership with legal services but it all comes together,” said Sara Karki, staff attorney at ILCM. Entrepreneurs work closely with pro-bono attorneys to review business leases, assist with filing business permits, license applications and articles of incorporation agreements, and receive evaluations on opportunities to remain competitive in the market. Elected leaders and city offices are supportive of the project and seek ways to highlight new businesses, such as a visit from the mayor for a haircut at a refugee-owned barbershop or through educational workshops with state agency presenters.

The Austin Area Minority Business Project has been a great success in the community. In addition to newcomers becoming business owners, many have been able to become homeowners as well. “It’s a great feeling to see refugees purchasing homes, especially after having to flee their homes or live in camps for years,” said Karki. The project has inspired immigrants to start the journey of launching their own business while establishing and strengthening relationships among community members. Through business tours, community members have a chance to meet immigrant business owners and try foods that are different or new to them while learning about the businesses.

The Austin Area Minority Business Project is just one of many initiatives that ILCM is engaging in to promote integration in the community. For the last five years, ILCM has co-sponsored Taste of the Nations, a community event that brings everyone in Austin, Minn., together to share food and cultures and an opportunity to mingle with one another. “I see more people taking an interest [in promoting integration] and we really appreciate the support from elected officials and local leaders,” said Karki. Five years ago, the Austin City Council unanimously approved joining Welcoming America’s network, making Austin the second city in Minnesota to join. ILCM —along with the city’s Human Rights Commission and other local nonprofits and community members — was able to assist in implementing Austin’s strategic welcoming plan, which aims to “empower multicultural leadership and increase connections between communities”, according to the plan. Moreover, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz proclaimed Oct. 26, 2020 as Immigrant Integration Day, highlighting the many contributions immigrant communities have made to the state and its commitment to welcoming and embracing immigrant communities.

CLINIC applauds ILCM and its partnerships to promote integration and uplift immigrant business owners. Share with us your organization’s integration efforts to be featured as next month’s CLINIC affiliate highlight!