Hispanic Affairs Project joins city and community leaders to promote integration

Over the last several years, CLINIC’s Center for Immigrant Integration has had the opportunity to highlight various local integration initiatives throughout Colorado. From the highly respected nonprofit, Intercambio: Uniting Communities, to a local photographer using her art to promote integration, to Catholic Charities of Pueblo’s work with city officials to ensure immigrant communities feel safe reporting crime to local law enforcement, to Aurora’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs and its partnerships with nonprofits to promote integration locally – the people of Colorado are prioritizing integration. While the approaches differ, the goals were similar: to promote immigrant integration and create an inclusive community. Fortunately, state officials are now engaging in similar efforts to promote integration statewide.

In 2019, Governor Jared Polis of Colorado launched the New Americans Integration Initiative to identify barriers in the community and work with members in the community, nonprofits and other stakeholders to implement solutions. Earlier this year as an expansion of the integration initiative, Governor Polis signed into law HB21-1150, creating an Office of New Americans, housed within the Department of Labor and Employment. Through community partnerships, the office will “identify and address issues related to integration, foster enhanced inclusion of New Americans in Colorado’s civic, social, and economic life, and ensure equitable opportunities for newcomers,” according to its website.

One of the nonprofits teaming up with the newly funded office is CLINIC affiliate Hispanic Affairs Project (HAP). Since its founding 16 years ago, HAP’s mission has been to integrate newcomers in the western slope of Colorado, through leadership development, local, state and federal advocacy, and essential service provision to the community. During the last three years, the Colorado legislative body has become “friendlier and more pro-immigrant,” recalls Ricardo Perez, executive director of the Hispanic Affairs Project. HAP has been successful in promoting integration locally through relationship building in the community: “we connect with non-immigrants to support newcomers and celebrate diversity here,” said Perez. As a trusted organization in the community, their partnership with city officials is crucial, due to mistrust of government entities among the immigrant community. By partnering with city officials, nonprofits like HAP can assist newcomers while building trust between the community and city government. For example, HAP helps share messaging around services and resources offered by governmental agencies. “Legislators are becoming more connected and wanting to be more involved,” reflects Perez.

HAP has strong partnerships with public libraries, local health clinics and churches. These partnerships have been key to continuing the integration efforts in the community, especially during times when HAP has reached its max capacity. “Collaboration is important if you are going to succeed, integration is a two-way process, and everyone has a role and responsibility. Living in a rural area, grassroots organizing and working together is what creates change”, said Perez. Perez believes that state officials have the capacity and ability to invest in grassroots organizations working in the community and have the platform to speak positively about integration and its importance for communities. The role of nonprofits and other community-based organizations is to continue working closely with the immigrant community and promote civic engagement, build capacity and provide legal services among other resources. As for community members, Perez believes participation is pivotal. Change is occurring in the community, Perez recalled, “We see community members with limited English be present and talk about how they feel like the community belongs to them.”

HAP acknowledges that integration efforts will look different in each community. HAP prepares for this by hosting a series of presentations, film discussions, and community activities to bring newcomers and the receiving community together to engage and exchange stories. HAP is currently working with a city council in the western slope providing resources to become a Certified Welcoming City, a designation offered by the organization Welcoming America. “[Community members] are very welcoming of newcomers and they are very supportive, they are engaging in integration work even though they don’t know that is what they are doing,” said Perez, who hopes that receiving this accreditation will continue to empower the community to creating a safe and welcoming place for newcomers.

CLINIC applauds Hispanic Affairs Project and its collaborations for their ongoing efforts to promote immigrant integration throughout Colorado. Share with us your city’s integration efforts to be featured in next month’s CLINIC’s Affiliate newsletter.