City of Boston: Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement

Since its creation in 1998, the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians has championed integration among newcomers and long-standing residents. Now known as the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, or MOIA, the office serves as a link between the City and immigrant communities. MOIA’s mission is to, “strengthen the ability of immigrants to fully and equitably participate in economic, civic, social, and cultural life in Boston. MOIA also promotes the recognition and public understanding of the contributions of immigrants to the City.” Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh is the son of immigrants and is dedicated to creating a community that is inclusive and welcoming of all. With 29 percent of the population being foreign-born, MOIA has several goals including: finding solutions to issues important to immigrant communities; collaborating with other City departments, community and civic organizations, and corporate partners to ensure equity; advancing opportunities and building power in immigrant communities; and ensuring all residents feel a sense of belonging by having a voice in decision-making spaces and actively participating in local government.

City officials often gather information from the community using traditional methods, such as town hall events or council meetings. However, in 2015, MOIA took a unique approach and disseminated hundreds of surveys to community partners and leaders. The surveys provided MOIA with feedback from local nonprofits and also deepened relationships with these organizations. “Most nonprofits already have established trust and relationships with community members”, said Renato Castelo, MOIA’s Immigrant Integration Initiatives Manager. “We rely heavily on nonprofits to help us provide information and resources to the community.” Communication between MOIA and their partners is a two-way street, as nonprofits are encouraged to provide MOIA with any current challenges or barriers the community is experiencing. Collectively, the partners work on solutions. On any given day, MOIA interacts with about 40 different nonprofit partners.

MOIA and partners work on various initiatives that promote the integration of newcomers and the community. MOIA is building an advisory board comprised of representatives from various community organizations to address economic integration, including entrepreneurship among undocumented immigrants. One of these initiatives is empowering immigrants through worker-owned cooperatives, or co-ops. Operating a co-op allows businesses to give power of ownership to its members. All members vote and have a say in the direction the business goes. This provides an opportunity for undocumented immigrants to work in dignified ways.

The City of Boston also started an unprecedented pilot program last summer that provides professional experience, academic support and leadership development to Dreamers between the ages of 16-22. The program was a success, and the City is preparing to launch a school year fellowship program. Nonprofits are encouraged to apply for the grant and manage the implementation of the fellowship.

Every year MOIA hosts an end-of-year reception called “We Are Boston” to celebrate the City’s diversity. MOIA invites nonprofits and corporations to this event thereby encouraging corporations to meet and support local nonprofits. Through donations from corporate sponsors, MOIA awarded $100,000 in mini-grants to 20 nonprofit organizations in 2020.

While the realities of COVID-19 have required agencies to shift project priorities, the need for teamwork, trust and alliances has been underscored. After the pandemic shut down much of the United States last March, MOIA started hosting COVID-19 Response Webinars with its community partners. The webinars are held every two weeks and City departments and organizations present on resources available for immigrants during the pandemic. Topics have included rental relief, food access, small business grants, CARES Act, public charge rules, COVID-19 Q&A sessions, etc. Organizations also use the time to ask questions and to inform MOIA what they are seeing in the community.

Castelo recalls the moment he felt the office was making a difference in the community, “The Mayor’s Office received an email from an undocumented resident looking for resources. [They] provided their home address and phone number so that the Mayor could get back to [them]. We realized that we must be doing something right if they felt comfortable enough to reach out to city officials and provide their personal information”.

For nonprofits and city officials hoping to codify a partnership, Castelo offers guidance, “be intentional about establishing these relationships. Host community events and invite city officials to speak to the community about their roles. Bring them in to see the community they are serving. That’s the first step, and then you become allies”.

Learn more about MOIA and the partners they work with through the community resource directory.

CLINIC applauds the City of Boston Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement for their commitment to immigrant integration and the partnerships they have created to fulfill their mission and goals.

Stay tuned, for next month’s city profile! In the meantime, let us know how you work with your city officials to promote integration!