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Opportunities for partnerships - Fatima Shama - Transcript

[Text on screen: Fatima Shama, Commissioner, 2009-2013, NYC Office of Immigrant Affairs.]

Fatima Shama:
Hello and greetings from New York City. My name is Fatima Shama and I’m delighted to join you today for your conference.

I’d like to begin by thanking the Municipal Association of Victoria for inviting me to be part of today’s conversation and today’s day of learning. I want in particular like to thank Con Pagonis who I had the pleasure of meeting almost a year ago when he was on holiday in New York City and we were able to talk about the differences between New York City’s managing of our migrant populations and the work happening in Victoria.

Thank you for inviting me to participate today. I’m looking forward to sharing with you some of the strategies that we have been able to use in New York City to better engage and support our immigrant communities and I hope that what I share with you will be useful to the work that you are doing.

Let me begin by sharing with you some background on New York City. New York City is home to 8.4 million people, 60% of whom are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. We have individuals who come from over 192 different countries and speak over 180 different languages. It is a very robustly diverse place - and the food is really good too!

I want to share with you the work that happened during my time in government, in local municipal government, under the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg who served as Mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. I served as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs from August 2009 to the end of our administration’s term at the end of 2013.

Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership in immigration nationally has been incredible, but his leadership in New York City at the local level of ensuring that we provided and created a government that was serving all New Yorkers equally and respectfully was very critical.

Among the first things he was able to do when he came into office as Mayor was ensure and enhance a confidentiality policy that would protect any and all immigrants when they came to New York City government for services. We would ask a series of questions and in those questions we may ask whether they were documented or undocumented – irrespective of the answer we ensured that that information would remain confidential and that we would serve any and all who came to us for help.

What I want to share with you today is within that framework; is in the framework that a commitment in New York City government was designed and created to work in partnership with community organisations, with faith-based institutions, to ensure that immigrants were able to thrive in New York City; not just based on the history that they would have given us as a city but truly because they are the future of our city.

The work that we have accomplished has been catalogued in a series of blueprints called The blueprints for immigrant integration. There are twelve topics that cover the breadth of strategies and solutions that we have been able to use here in New York City to better support and engage our immigrant communities. Those blueprints are available to you for free, to download and to use, as how-to guides to better do this yourselves. You can find them on New York City government website at Con Pagonis also has a number of USB bracelets that house all twelve of the blueprints. Please use them and distribute them as widely as you can. Our funders want to make sure you are using them. Cities across this country have used them; cities across the globe have used them and we’re delighted that you’ve been able to join … that I’ve been invited to help you in today’s conversation but also to share these blueprints with you.

There are twelve blueprints but I’m only going to cover four in this conversation.

I want to start by talking about how do you create a municipal social cohesion or integration agenda. There has to be a commitment at the leadership level, but the commitment has to be to ensure that you will – from the government’s perspective – enhance and ensure access to services and that you will be committed to building partnerships, providing assistance when necessary to others and taking assistance when necessary, and in celebrating the diversity of your communities. An example of that is quite honestly…listening to your community partners, bringing them together, listening to what they have to say, and then turn-keying some of those suggestions perhaps, responding to some of those critiques but really being willing to listen.

How do you enhance and access services?

Some of the strategies we’ve used in New York have been around language access in particular. New York is home to a multilingual population many of whom do not speak English, some who speak English not so well. Our commitment from New York City government’s perspective under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership was to ensure that any city agency that was serving New Yorkers would serve them in the language they most comfortably communicated in. As such we had a language access policy written into law that would ensure any city agency would do this.

To make sure that our communities felt comfortable and knew how to utilise this a little easy solution we created was an “I Speak” card. Our commitment to language access was around customer service. We wanted to treat New Yorkers well. We wanted to ensure that they understood us well, and so a little card was created that said “I speak” and we would write in that – on the card – what languages they communicated in. It was a successful way for us to reach individuals. This strategy and others are included in the blueprint that I encourage you to turn to.

I want to talk a little bit about naturalisation and citizenship.

In the United States we have the opportunity to invite individuals to become US citizens. There is a direct correlation based on any number of studies that naturalisation and economic outcomes are directly correlated: better investment in education, better rates of home ownership, better investment in businesses. For New York City it was an opportunity for us to think about how can we better support any member of immigrants who are eligible to naturalise to get access to that information, to get access to free legal services, and to ensure that they could connect and apply. We created an initiative by the name of ‘Citizenship in Schools’ which allowed us to partner with our school system to reach our families - to inform them to use the school buildings as places where we would bring lawyers to provide free legal services and where we would in fact be able to engage families to better understand that not only can their children be educated in those school buildings but we can help support them for their success.

The fourth opportunity I want to share with you is something I know you’ll talk a lot about today but it’s around civic engagement, it’s around the process of engaging individuals to support social cohesion.

Civic engagement and citizenship tend to be connected, but in New York there’s an opportunity to ensure that civil engagement is a way to have individuals connected and involved in their neighbourhoods, in their local communities, around the development of their communities.

It is often recognised that government is not seen as the trusted source for many of our immigrant communities largely because the communities have come from countries where government has failed them. The opportunity to ensure access to services required government to leave our offices, to leave our comfortable spaces and to go into communities, to partner with community organisations, to partner with faith-based institutions - and ask them what the community’s needs were, what were the pressing questions communities had. We created a series of ‘Know your rights and responsibilities’ forums; forums in communities oftentimes in the languages our communities spoke; answering questions that they had about education, about healthcare, about the police, about understanding the sort of civic infrastructure. Those workshops and those forums helped us recognise a series of leaders in neighbourhoods that we felt we could better work with.

We created a Neighbourhood Leadership Institute where we brought together any number of immigrant groups from those communities where they were able to talk together, sit together at a table, learn together – not at a moment of crisis but at a moment of opportunity. The Neighbourhood Leadership Institutes allowed us to recognise that what we needed to do was build upon the unity in our communities. So we created a grant program called Unity NYC Grant Awards. We invited these community groups together to apply for a small amount of money - $2,500 – to tell us what and how they would use that money because we wanted to make sure those communities were working together around solutions for their community. I highly encourage you to both use this as an opportunity to hear the solutions your communities can come up, but to see the effects it will have on your communities.

An additional leadership program we invested in was on a high-level citywide leadership program called the Immigrants Civic Leadership Institute. It brought together leaders from across the city, 25 altogether for a year-long process. These are individuals I would likely say are going to run for office someday in New York City, but we wanted them to be ambassador’s voices and colleagues and partners in the work we needed to do to better the lives of immigrants. We partnered with a leadership development organisation and they did all of the work. We helped identify the individuals, we helped identify and recruit, speak about the role of government, and invested in this cohort: a cohort of 75 individuals for the past three years have graduated and they are very strong voices leading organisations, leading change in their communities – a great investment around opportunities to support strategic social cohesion in your communities.

The last blueprint that I want to talk about and the last initiative that I’ll talk about here is with the police.

New York City Police Department, the largest police department in the United States, had an opportunity right after 9/11 to think about its relationship with communities, to think about what September 11th meant to so many immigrant groups in New York City in particular Muslim groups or Muslim and Arab communities. It was an opportunity to think: “How could we ensure that our immigrant communities aren’t afraid of our police but rather see them as partners in community care and community safety and well-being?”

The police department, recognising this challenge, created a unit called The New Immigrant Outreach Unit. The unit was made up of seven police officers representing the ethnic diversity of fast growing immigrant groups, speaking the languages of those communities – and they were charged with going into communities regularly, dressed in police uniforms, dressed in normal clothes, introducing themselves, ensuring that our communities knew what access to services existed for them, what benefits, how the police is here to protect them and to partner with them. They were big partners of the work we did at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Ironically enough it wasn’t enough that our community officers, these police officers, were going into communities – they recognised there were still some challenges they had to overcome. The challenges were largely in our teenage population, something we’re seeing across the globe right now. The police officers created sports teams that could better engage these youth: a baseball team to work with our Caribbean and Latino communities, a cricket team to engage our Indian and Caribbean communities, and a soccer team – American soccer also known globally as football – soccer teams to engage youth in those communities. The success of those sports teams could not be understated. Some of the outcomes that were completely unexpected was that we started to see a whole cohort of the young people better connected to the police department and wanting to become police officers. There have already been at least two graduations with a very large and very diverse audience of new police officers in New York City that were direct outcomes of those sports teams. An opportunity for you to think about strategies is critically important – something we’re seeing across the globe.

There are seven more blueprints that I encourage you to turn to: ranging from strategies around engaging and supporting your immigrant groups in education, around economic development, financial empowerment, the role that libraries – public libraries – play. There’s opportunities that we have shared with you around healthcare – both around healthcare access as well as healthcare service delivery, family and child welfare, public benefits that you might provide, domestic violence, child welfare violence, child protective services. Blueprints exist and have strategies on all of these opportunities. I hope that this conversation is helpful and useful to you in the work that you will be doing in Australia with your newest Australians. We are partners in this work, we are delighted to be helpful and Con Pagonis can certainly share my information and I am delighted to be helpful if I can be. Thank you for listening and good luck in your work.

[Image fades. Video ends.]

Duration: 15:13

SOURCE: Cultural Diversity page